Friday, July 23, 2021

"Plain Jayne" by Hillary Manton Lodge

I have never really read much "Amish fiction," though I remember when it was the hottest thing in Christian fiction.  But Hillary Manton Lodge has become an auto-buy author for me, and that means not only that I will buy her next book whenever it drops, but that I want to read her earlier works too, like Plain Jayne and its follow-up, Simply Sara.  I was able to find copies of both of them recently, which made me so happy.

Jayne Tate is a motorcycle-riding, alt-rock-listening, story-chasing journalist.  But after her estranged father dies, her writing suffers, and so her editor makes her take time off to regroup.  Rather than go hiking or take a lot of naps or take up gardening, Jayne decides to go hang out with Amish people so she can write a newspaper or magazine article about them to sell freelance.  Which is kind of a nosy and aren't-I-superior-to-you attitude to have, but of course, she soon learns that there's a lot more to Amish life than horses and quilts and waking up extremely early in the morning.  

Jayne meets a formerly Amish carpenter named Levi who interests her immediately, even though she has a boyfriend back in the city.  Levi's family allows her to live with them and write about them, even though they have nothing to do with Levi anymore because he left the Amish faith and became a Protestant.  Over the course of the book, Jayne makes steps to reconcile with her estranged mother and sister, learns how to bake pie, and reevaluates her own faith.

I think my favorite part of this book is that Jayne realizes that a simple, Amish life is not for everyone.  She learns how to focus and how to prioritize, but she also understands that you can serve the Lord from a modern life that uses electricity just as well from an old-fashioned one.  Although I've really never read any other Amish Christian fiction, I have gathered from reviews and such that generally such books have an opposite conclusion, which I don't find to be healthy.  After all, Godliness with contentment is great gain -- which means being contented with the life you've been given, not trying to conform to someone else's life.

Particularly Good Bits:

Some people might question the consumption of ice cream in fifty-degree weather, and that's their prerogative.  I'm just not one of them (p. 107).

Living in a small town was like being followed by a Greek chorus who lamented your latest mishap (p. 150).

Just because my life wasn't simple didn't make it insignificant.  Owning a cell phone didn't make me a lesser person (p. 256).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 for some discussions of whether or not an unmarried couple will spend the night in bed together.  (Spoiler alert: they don't.)

This is my 33rd book read off my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2021.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

"I'm Your Huckleberry" by Val Kilmer

I picked this book up at the bookstore on an absolute whim.  I didn't even know he'd written a book! But it's not shocking that it would catch my eye, since Val Kilmer has long been one of my favorite actors.  I've always thought of him as off-kilter, extremely intelligent, and funny, so I figured his book might be similar.

I was totally right.  This doesn't feel like a memoir so much as spending a couple of days listening to Kilmer reminisce about his family, his career, and his love life.  Happily, he never goes into any kind of racy details about that last item.  He never says mean or snide things about any of the women he dated, or his ex-wife Joanne Whalley.  He's remarkably gentlemanly, in fact.  You get the idea that he is dazzled by women, but has no real idea what they want or need out of life or a man.  Which was kind of fascinating, in a somewhat sad way.

I was really happy that most of the book was a sort of behind-the-scenes tour of many of his famous movies, because that's what I wanted the most from it.  And he definitely delivered.  I think the only movie of his that I love that he didn't cover at all here is Spartan (2004).  So that was immensely satisfying.  Do I wish he would have delved more deeply into a few of them?  Yes.  But what is here is very fun.  And I got to learn some of his thoughts on Hamlet and what it was like to play the title character onstage, which you know thrilled me.

Val Kilmer was raised a Christian Scientist, and he talks a LOT about his particular religious beliefs in this book.  They're a little peculiar, to me, but I definitely respect his commitment to serving his fellow humans with love and compassion and generosity.  He also explains his battle with throat cancer and his struggle to discover a new way of acting now that his golden voice is gone.

Particularly Good Bits:

When you dream dreams when you're young, do them before you have a reason not to.  When you are young, that is when all the dreams come true (p. 94).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-16 for some veiled references to sex, discussions of drug and alcohol use, and the very sad story of his youngest brother's drowning.

This was my 32nd book read off my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2021.

Friday, July 9, 2021

"Christy" by Catherine Marshall

I'd read this once before, back in the mid-'90s when the TV series based on this book first aired.  Which is why I have a TV-tie-in cover, of course.  It was such a BIG deal when that show aired, to the people where I lived right then!  You see, I lived in western North Carolina, only a couple of hours from the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee where this book is set, and where the series was partially filmed.  And if you think that Appalachian mountainfolk weren't simultaneously excited for a big TV series to be all about people like their forebears, and also terribly apprehensive of how those forebears would be portrayed... well, you need to think again.  

You see, a lot of times, pop culture portrays the mountain folk of Appalachia as being half-witted and ornery and generally useless.  The hillbilly caricature is awfully prevalent in movies and TV shows in particular, and naturally, people who actually live in the Appalachians are sensitive about this.  It's true that things like feuds, moonshining, superstitions, and hardscrabble farming were parts of life in the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains for some people, generations ago.  But when those things get turned into the sum total of a fictional character, then you end up with a caricature instead of a representation of life.  Anyway, that's why the people I grew up around were cautious about the show.  

I think just about everyone I knew at the time watched the show.  And then discussed it with everyone else.  Certainly, all my friends and all my mom's friends did.  It's been years and years since I watched it, but I have the whole series on DVD and am now seriously considering pulling it out to see how my memory of it compares to the actual show.

Anyway.  This is supposed to be a book review.  All of that was just to explain to you why I'd read this 25 years ago, as a teen.  I reread it now because my book group chose it for our summer read, and here we are.

This book just flew by.  I was so engrossed.  It was a very nostalgic read for me, not because I felt nostalgic for being a teenager and reading it the first time, but rather, it made me nostalgic for the Appalachians of North Carolina, so close to Tennessee, so similar in so many ways.  All the descriptions of mountain scenery just hit me right in the feels, and yeah... I became an odd mixture of hyped up and melancholy at times.

Christy is based on the life of Catherine Marshall's mother, Leonora, although it's highly fictionalized.  Her mother did grow up around Asheville, NC, and go teach school in the mountains of Tennessee at a mission school.  Some things, like walking seven miles through snow to reach the school, are based on fact.  There really were an inspiring woman and a handsome young preacher leading the mission.  But enough of the book is made up that it's considered fiction.  If you want to know more about the fact vs. fiction, I recommend reading this and this.

But on to the fiction.  Christy Huddleston is a college student in 1912 when she listens to a presentation about work being done to help educate the people in remote areas of the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee.  She learns they need a teacher and volunteers to teach for one year even though she hasn't finished her own schooling.  Even though she grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, also part of the Appalachians, she feels as if she's entering a whole new world when she reaches Cutter Gap, TN.  At first, she looks down on the mountain people there, assuming that because their lives are simple and hard, lacking in things like indoor plumbing, basic sanitation knowledge, electricity, and other modern "necessities," the people living there must be simple and backward too.  

But she learns, sometimes painfully slowly, that her assumptions about these people can lead to more than just simple misunderstandings.  She sees things like moonshine and thinks of it as evil and contemptible until she learns how and why people come to depend on it for their livelihoods.  She looks at the feuds between families and sees only hatred and ignorance until she learns about their histories, sometimes needing to learn about hundreds of years ago when these people's ancestors came here from Scotland, and why.

Most of all, Christy learns to look and think before she speaks and acts.  And that includes taking a hard look at her own beliefs about God and Christianity, and looking at her own reasons for coming there, and for staying to teach even when things get hard.  She is befriended and mentored by several women, romanced by the mission's minister, and challenged by the local doctor to think and believe and act for herself instead of always following the example of those she admires.  It's a coming of age story, more than anything.  And I'm very fond of those.

Also, Miss Alice Henderson is my hero.  As the quotations below will show, hee.

Particularly Good Bits:  

"'Before God,' he would often say to me, 'I've just one duty as a father.  That is to see that thee has a happy childhood tucked under thy jacket'" (p. 71).

But to Miss Alice it was lack of joy that was the heresy (p. 117).

There was something I had noticed too: an initial acceptance of herself as she was and so of other people with their foibles.  And so she did as little scolding or criticizing of others for their foolish behavior or their sins as anyone I had ever known.  it was not that she was willing to compromise with wrongdoing or poverty or ignorance, just that she was a long step ahead of wasting emotional energy on fretting.  And she never put pressure on the rest of us to accept her opinions.  The secret of her calm seemed to be that she was not trying to prove anything.  She was -- that was all.  And her stance toward life seemed to say: God is -- and that is enough (p. 174).

"Such morbid introspection," Miss Alice added crisply, "was nonsense.  Either God exists -- or He does not.  If He does, either an individual has a relationship with Him -- or that relationship has been severed.  Indigestion or arthritis can't change the bottom fact that God is or the unfailingness of a single one of His promises" (p. 376).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-16 for violence, a long section about a typhoid epidemic that can get pretty disgusting, and a discussion of a child's grooming and rape by a serial child molester (it happened in the past and is related as the backstory for a character, but still, it's not something I'd let a young teen son or daughter of mine read).

This is my 23rd book read and reviewed for my third Classics Club list.

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

"A Very Bookish 4th of July" by Kelsey Bryant, Abigayle Claire, Sarah Holman, and Rebekah A. Morris

I enjoyed A Very Bookish Thanksgiving so much that I eagerly bought this next installment in this series of limited-edition anthologies.  It's a little unusual to find stories that revolve around America's Independence Day, so this was a unique delight in that respect.  Each of the four novellas in this collection tell an original story that takes place on or around July 4, but which also involve some classic book as well.  

Rose of Nowhere by Abigayle Claire was my favorite, but I did like all four novellas!  Since my kids enjoyed A Very Bookish Thanksgiving, I'll be handing this off to them for a fun summer read as well.

Prairie Independence Day by Kelsey Bryant is about a young mother who moves to South Dakota when her husband gets a new job.  She's happy to be close to the Laura Ingalls Wilder museums and such in De Smet, but not happy about her pushy new neighbor who keeps trying to rope her into helping with community projects.  But when she makes a new friend who has also recently moved to the area, she comes to realize that involvement in your community can be a blessing, not just one more thing to keep you busy.

Rose of Nowhere by Abigayle Claire centers on a young woman all alone in the world, just on the cusp of World War Two.  Her only friend is her worn copy of Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery, a last Christmas gift from her father before he died years earlier.  When she finds a new job, she also finds new friends who share her love of words and books, and draw her out of her lonely old life.

Across the Land I Love by Sarah Holman follows two sisters on an impromptu cross-country road trip.  All they want is to reach their family to celebrate July 4th, but various troubles derail their journey.  Plane and care trouble, uncooperative hoteliers, and missed connections give them almost as many problems as Jules Verne gave his protagonist in Around the World in Eighty Days.  

Lessons from Liberty by Rebekah Morris gives us seven girl cousins who welcome a boy cousin they've never met, like a gender-flipped version of Eight Cousins by Louisa May Alcott.  The girl cousins belong to military families, and they have a lot of lingo and customs to teach the newcomer, especially since he's lived overseas and doesn't know much about Independence Day or what it means.  This one did get a little rah-rah here and there, like it was trying to cram every single patriotic American idea into one story, but the characters were fun, so I didn't mind too much.

You can check out the Instagram account dedicated to this series to learn more about the authors and their stories.  This will only be for sale for a few months, so get a copy this summer if you want to read these four fun novellas!

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: G.  Wholesome, clean, and uplifting.

This is my 31st book read off my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2021.

Monday, June 28, 2021

"The Storm in the Barn" by Matt Phelan

I absolutely love Matt Phelan's graphic novel Snow White, so when I spotted The Storm in the Barn at the used book store, I had to have it.  And it did not disappoint.

The story centers around a boy named Jack growing up during the Dust Bowl in Kansas, 1937.  It's been years since any rain fell on the Great Plains, and his whole life seems to be covered in dust.  The faces on these pages are hopeless, desperate, and lost.  Well, most of them.  Jack has a sister who suffers from "dust pneumonia" but remains a bright, happy girl.

One day, Jack thinks he sees something weird in a neighbor's abandoned barn.  A bright flash of soundless light.  Eventually, he investigates.  Eventually, he discovers a being that could solve... not all his problems, but maybe some of them.  Maybe, if Jack is brave enough, he can at least bring some hope back to his world.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for mild bad language and somewhat scary images like the one on the cover.

This is my 30th book read off my TBR shelves this year for #TheUnreadShelfChallenge2021.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

"Wait Until Tomorrow" by Jenni Sauer

The Steadfast Tin Soldier and Rapunzel are two of my favorite fairy tales.  So a novella by Jenni Sauer that melds the two, set in the same universe as Rook di Goo and Yesterday or Long Ago?  Totally my jam.

Rue is what would have been called a "taxi dancer" a hundred years ago, here on earth.  She works at a disreputable dance hall, paid to dance with the men who frequent it.  Rue is an orphan, alone in the big city, exactly the sort of helpless young woman that others prey on.  She doesn't like being pawed at by an endless stream of bad dancers, but it's better than working Upstairs.  Just what the Upstairs girls do is never specified, but it doesn't have to be.

When Rue is attacked in the alley behind the dance hall, Inspector "Robbie" Robrecht investigates the crime, but he seems more interested in talking to Rue than in the hopeless impossibility of finding an unknown assailant in a city full of strangers.  Gently, gradually, Robbie and Rue get to know each other.  But when Rue's employer decides to give her to the dance hall's bouncer instead of moving her Upstairs, Rue runs.  And Robbie follows, hampered by his prosthetic leg, but faithful and determined.

I love that I can trust Sauer to deliver a happy, hopeful ending.  Although the original Steadfast Tin Soldier ends with fire and death, the author finds a logical way to subvert those that leaves me with a satisfied smile.

Particularly Good Bits:

He was too good for the galaxy, and that meant he was galaxies too good for her (p. 43).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for inexplicit mentions of men's hands roving over a woman, a frightening attack, lots of chasing and danger, and a pretty scary ending.  Nothing actually objectionable, but not really something for elementary school kids either.

This is my 29th book read off my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2021.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

"Heart of Darkness" by Joseph Conrad

Well, that was weird.

At least now I know where the line "Mistah Kurtz, he dead" from the beginning of "The Hollow Men" by T. S. Eliot comes from, though.  That was literally the most interesting part of the book, for me -- I hit that line and went, "Wait!  I know that!  So this is what that's from!"  That's one of my favorite poems, so it was a really fun moment for me.  I think the title of it might be a reference to this book too, actually, coming from the second quotation below.  Nifty.

So, reading all 72 pages wasn't a total waste of time, I guess.  I do like knowing what little referential things are from.

Particularly Good Bits:

"The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much" (p. 4).

"But the wilderness had found him out early, and had taken on him a terrible vengeance for the fantastic invasion.  i think it had whispered to him things about himself which he did not know, things of which he had no conception till he took counsel with this great solitude -- and the whisper had proved irresistibly fascinating.  it echoed loudly within him because he was hollow at the core" (p. 53).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-16 for a lot of use of the n-word, some creepy stuff, violence, and general weirdness.

This was my 22nd book read and reviewed (sorta) for my 3rd Classics Club list, and my 28th for #TheUnreadShelfProject2021.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

"Pride" by Ibi Zoboi

I've been intrigued by this book ever since it released.  I really enjoy retellings of classic stories, as you know, especially ones that set a familiar story in a very different time and/or place.  And a present-day Brooklyn hood is definitely different from Regency England!  Outwardly, anyway.  But as Zoboi shows throughout this YA novel, the core values of family, love, and learning to be self-aware are not different now from Jane Austen's day.

Zuri Benitez can't stand the new rich boys who just moved in across the street from her family's apartment in the Brooklyn hood of Bushwick.  Darius and Ainsley Darcy don't fit in.  They're rich, they're strangers, and Zuri assumes they're looking down on all the people who've actually grown up in Bushwick.  People like her generous mother, always-tired-from-working-two-jobs father, and loud sisters.  But then her older sister Janae starts really liking Ainsley.  And Darius turns out to be nicer and more down-to-earth than Zuri had thought.  Misunderstandings and misjudgments abound, of course, before Zuri, Darius, and several other characters can learn to see themselves and others more clearly.  Then everything can end on a happy, hopeful note.  

The Benitez family is Haitian-Dominican, and the Darcy brothers are Black.  Most of the rest of the characters in this are also either Black or Latinx, and I really loved learning about a mix of cultures so different from my own.  Zoboi tackles issues like gentrification, racism, and sexism in subtle, gentle ways that don't try to take over the story or make it preachy, but nonetheless provide food for thought.  I never felt like this story had an agenda (I really don't like stories with obvious agendas), but instead, it gave me some new perspectives to mull over while also telling a really fun, lively version of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.

Unfortunately, there is quite a bit of strong language sprinkled throughout.  I could definitely have done without that, but it wasn't enough to make me stop reading.  I was really excited to read a teen love story that has more to it than "wow, that person is hot," and in which no one gets in bed with anyone else!  In fact, the Benitez girls are all known for not sleeping around, and the Darcy boys are described as real gentlemen several times.  All so refreshing for YA books these days!

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-16 for the bad language, and for some kissing scenes and talk of guys staring at girls' butts, things like that.  A story is related of a boy having taken sexy photos of a teen girl and shared them.  Nothing dirty, but also too mature for younger teens.  Underage drinking occurs.  There are also scenes with people practicing a non-Christian religion, and talk of spirits guiding people.

This is my 27th book read for #TheUnreadShelfProject2021.

Thursday, June 10, 2021

"Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" by J. K. Rowling

So, it took me like six weeks to read this one.  Not because it's more difficult (it's not) or longer (it is) than the previous three, but because... I was dragging it out as long as I could, to be honest.  This is the last one that's super fun, before the badness and the madness descends.  This is the last full book where (spoiler alert?!?) my favorite character is alive through the whole thing.  

I do really enjoy this book, which is part of why I lingered over it.  I suspect I'll read the last three much faster because I will not want to savor them, I'll want to get through a pretty big chunk of them quickly.  Kind of like how I read through the Frodo-and-Sam-wandering-around-Mordor parts of Lord of the Rings as fast as I can so I can get back to the parts I enjoy.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 for mild bad language, peril of children, and an intense and scary finale.

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

"Kilmeny of the Orchard" by L. M. Montgomery

This is not one of Montgomery's best.  Still, it's winsome and pleasant, so it's not like I'm sad I read it.  I just... expect more from Montgomery.

Really, it feels like someone's first novel.  The one where they're just stretching their writing muscles to see if they can sustain a novel-length story or not.  And I feel like this might have been better off as one of her short stories, to be honest.  Like there's not really enough story here, so she kind of adds a lot of pretty filler to make it long enough to stand alone.

And the thing is, Montgomery's descriptions don't usually feel like filler to me.  Yes, she can go into raptures about nature, but most of the time, she also advances the plot or deepens a character at the same time.  Here, though... yeah, there are places that feel like filler.

So, this isn't a total loss, but it also failed to charm me.

One cool thing about it, though, is that it's told from a male character's perspective!  Montgomery almost always focuses on the female characters, so that was pretty cool.   Eric Marshall, wealthy and at loose ends, helps out a friend by taking over the rest of his term of teaching school on Prince Edward Island.  There, he meets a beautiful young woman named Kilmeny who has amazing musical talent, but cannot speak.  Naturally, they fall in love.  Naturally, there are obstacles.  Naturally, there's a happy ending.  We would expect nothing less, right?

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  G.  It's not great, but it's clean.

This has been my21st book read for my 3rd Classics Club list and my 26th book read off my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2021.

Thursday, June 3, 2021

"Finale" by Stephanie Garber

Well, I finished the trilogy.  This last book was approximately 400 pages of "this keeps getting worse and worse and worse," 10 pages of "maybe this will be okay," 1 page of "this is superb and I adore it and I'm going to read this page three times in a row," and 50 pages of "whew."  Now you know.

I did like Tella better by the end of this last book.  About as much I liked Scarlett to begin with, actually.  So that was cool.  Dante is still my favorite, though, even after all of this.  

I will say that although Garber's shiny, sparkly, edgy descriptions entranced me throughout Caraval, by the middle of this book I was getting tired of everything being described as sharp, smoky, black, or floaty.  Hmm.

The way it all wrapped up was very, very satisfying, so I AM glad I've read these.  But I doubt I'll ever reread them.  Not for a very, very long time, anyway.  I don't feel pulled to go buy my own copies.

So... now I feel like I'm a cool kid because I finally read one of those YA fanasy series with the swirly words on the cover that everyone is always hyped up about.  I'm not particularly inspired to try out any other such series, but this was a fun ride. 

And man, I'm just craving a good real-world-based mystery right now.  So much.  I will probably grab a Rex Stout novel and inhale it over the next day or two because... all I'm reading right now is fantasy?  Which is weird?  I'm like two-thirds of the way through the fourth Harry Potter book, I'm just beginning Return of the King, and I read this.  That is a LOT of fantasy for someone who reads maybe five fantasy books a year, ordinarily.  (Okay, last year I read eight.  All year.)

Particularly Good Bits:

The cabin looked as warm as a handwritten love letter, with a stone fireplace that took up an entire wall and a forest of candles dangling from the ceiling (p. 33).

He looked like a wish that had just woken up (p. 254).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-16 for endless sexual innuendo and make-out scenes, though no one actually had sex.  Once again, there were scenes involving lots of blood, and some of them were pretty violent.  The language was about on par with the other two books -- nothing you wouldn't hear in a PG-13 movie, but definitely words here I don't say.

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

"Land of Hills and Valleys" by Elisabeth Grace Foley

I have read quite a few of Foley's books over the last ten years or so, and I think she has truly come into her own with this book.  It has a seemingly effortless flow that only comes with a great deal of work.  In fact, it swept me off to Wyoming with such ease I'm still a little breathless. 

In the midst of the Great Depression, Lena Campbell inherits a ranch when her grandfather dies.  She never met him, she never visited his ranch, and she's not even sure he was aware she existed because her mother and father were estranged from him.  And they're dead too.  But she decides to go see the ranch for herself before she decides to just sell it.

Once Lena reaches the ranch, she finds she can't leave.  Although she knows nothing about ranching, she's eager to learn.  Her grandfather's foreman Ray Harper is willing to teach her, and the other hands get along with their new boss well too.  So you'd think this would just be a jolly book about getting used to life on a Wyoming ranch in the 1930s.  But.

But her grandfather died from a gunshot wound in the back.  Some of her neighbors are friendly, and some are downright antagonistic.  It's hard for Lena to tell who to trust.

And then she falls in love.

And then someone sneaks around in her house at night.

And then there's a murder trial.

And then things get even more tense.  

This isn't quite a suspense novel, but it has a LOT of tension.  I raced through the last half of the book.  Wonderful stuff.  Like I said, I think Foley has come into her own with this novel.  It has a maturity and a power that I was not expecting, and now I can't wait to see what she writes next.

Particularly Good Bits:

Barely twenty-four hours had passed, with a whirl of enough events and emotions to fill a week, and here I was sitting and rearranging the scattered pieces of my life again.  I could only hope that eventually they would fall back into the same pattern that I had come to love and didn't want to lose (p. 139).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for some non-gory violence, brief strong language, suspenseful moments, and people in peril.

This is my 25th book read off my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2021.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

"The Poker Bride: The First Chinese in the West" by Christopher Corbett

I didn't realize when I got this that it was going to be straight-up nonfiction.  I thought it was going to be one of those books that tells a true story like a novel, what I call "biographical novels."  But it's not.  Instead of telling only the story of one Chinese woman who came to America, it uses her story as a focal point around which to tell the larger story of all Chinese immigration to the Old West.  Which I completely dug, once I understood the book's goal.

Corbett focuses on the life of Polly Bemis, who was reportedly sold by her destitute peasant family in China when she was a young teen, sold to a procurer who brought her across the ocean.  Once here, Polly was sold to a wealthy store owner who lived in a remote Idaho mining community to be his concubine.  A few years later, the store owner lost Polly in a poker game to a gambler named Charlie Bemis, who married her a few years later.  Her story was romanticized decades later by Idaho historians, who dubbed her "the poker bride" because she did eventually marry the man who won her in a poker game.

Along with telling this one individual's story, Corbett shows how similar her experience was to many Chinese women who were trafficked to America, and how much more fortunate she was than the vast majority of such women.  He discussed why they were brought here, how they were treated, and why they would even submit to such treatment.

Initially, young Chinese men came to California to work in the gold fields.  They were either unmarried, or left their wives and families at home.  They not only mined for gold, but over the next few decades, they helped build the Transcontinental Railroad and settle large parts of the West.  However, they generally did not intend to stay here.  They meant to find or earn money and then go home, so the vast majority never married here or brought over their wives from back in China.

Well, because this created a large population of single or far-from-their-wives men, it also created a market for "comfort women."  And so, people here would work with people in China to buy or entice young women to fill this market.  In China at that time, women were not even generally considered fully human.  They had basically no rights at all.  A family could sell their daughter any time they wanted, and this was a pretty common occurrence in particularly poor provinces along the Pacific coast.

The lives of most of those girls who were brought here from China were filled with the kind of stomach-turning misery that is the lot of so many human trafficking victims even today.  There is no kind of truly new vileness under the sun.  But Polly Bemis was an exception.  She appears to have been bought by one man for his own private use, not to sell her to others.  And when he lost her in that poker game, it appears that she did not then enter into any other kind of slavery, but was instead able to work at more dignified jobs.  And, eventually, Charlie Bemis did marry her, probably out of gratitude when she nursed him back to health after someone shot him in the face.

Charlie and Polly Bemis eventually moved to a remote homestead, where they lived out the rest of their lives in quiet.  It is possible that Charlie married her to save her from being deported to China after the Chinese Exclusion Acts were passed in the late 1800s, or it could simply have been to provide companionship to both of them, or there may have been affection between them -- records don't tell us, only that they did remain together until Charlie's death decades later.

I got this book because I'm including some Chinese-immigrant characters in the Beauty and the Beast retelling I'm currently writing.  They're minor characters, but I want to be sure I'm accurately reflecting life for Chinese immigrants in the 1870s.  And I've learned a LOT from this book, so that's pretty great!  But I did skim a chunk of the middle where it went into more detail about the lives and treatments of trafficked women.  It wasn't luridly graphic, but my imagination fills in gaps all too easily, so I did skim that.  My book isn't going to have anything about trafficking in it, so it wasn't really relevant to my research either.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-16 for non-lurid discussions of sex slavery and an incident where a man is shot in the face with non-gory descriptions of his wounds.

This has been my 24th book read off my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2021.

Friday, May 14, 2021

"Legendary" by Stephanie Garber

I almost never like the middle story in trilogies.  Like, basically never.  It's almost invariably my least-favorite part of a trilogy.  And Legendary is no exception.

I do think this book suffered because I loved Caraval so much (gushy review here), and then I dived straight into this book after finishing that one... only to stop reading after a few chapters because I just... wasn't loving this book.  And then I'd started it again, only to set it aside again.  

Now, I wanted to love it.  I was expecting to, in fact.  But, it was like... do we have to have another Caraval with another set of cryptic clues and another set of characters we can't trust?  It was as if the author said, "Oh, I see you liked Caraval... do you want another Caraval?"

Or, to put it another way, what I wanted was a new adventure in the same setting, and what I got was the same adventure in a new setting.  Sigh.

Also, to be fair, part of the reason I didn't love this is that it was focused on Tella, aka possibly my least-favorite character from Caraval.  Pretty sure everyone who read my review of that, where I said she irked me, was either like, "Hahaha, wait until she reads Legendary -- she'll change her mind!" or else "Ummmm, so... yeah... Legendary will be an interesting ride for her."  Alas, the latter were correct.  I don't dislike Tella as much as I did in the first book, but I still don't really like her much.  I especially disliked how she kept lying to Scarlett and keeping big secrets from her that were as much about her as about Tella.  Unfair.

Now, you'd think I'd have liked that the other major character in this was Dante, who was possibly my favorite character in the last one.  Unfortunately, when you take the Mysterious Man in the Shadows and bring him out into the forefront of the story... sometimes the mystery and shadows were the best part of him, and the limelight washes him out. 

But I'm still invested enough to want to read Finale.  And often, the third book in a trilogy is my favorite, so you never know, I might love that one too.  We shall see!  I did still really like Garber's writing style, so it was an enjoyable read in that regard.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-16 for more sexual innuendo and make-out scenes, plus some non-violent icky parts involving lots of blood going everywhere.  Again, the language was fairly clean, but not squeaky.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Winners of the S&S Giveaway!

Here we go!  The winners for the five Austen-related prizes are as follows:

Prize 1 (candle): Becky

Prize 2 (lip balm): Roxann

Prize 3 (sticker sheet): Kendra

Prize 4 (bookmarks & portrait sticker): EF Buckles

Prize 5 (bookmarks & bookstack sticker): Ivy Miranda

Congratulations to all five of you!  I will be emailing you each to ask for mailing addresses later this morning.  

Thanks so much to everyone who participated in the read-along -- whether you commented on every post, only one or two, or even just followed along quietly, I'm so happy I could share this reading time with you!

I am not currently planning any more read-alongs here on my blog, but might do one again this fall or winter.  We shall see!  Meanwhile, I am tossing around the idea of doing a quick and informal buddy read for the book The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde.  It's not long or deep, but it's loads of bookish fun and would be great to read with pals and laugh over together.  

(Mine from my Instagram)

I think I would try hosting that simultaneously here at The Edge of the Precipice and also on Instagram -- everyone could read at their own pace, and we'd all discuss it at the end of the month -- some in comments on a blog post here and others in a chat group on IG, whichever people prefer!  We're still figuring out what our summer will be like, though, so I won't make big plans for that until we know what we're doing for a vacation, and when.  Just something for you to keep in mind, if you're interested!

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

"Elizabeth and her German Garden" by Elizabeth von Arnim

I loved this book!  Oh, it was so refreshing and fun.  I am well on my way to being a firm fan of Elizabeth von Arnim -- in fact, I have bought a couple more of her books already.  I love how she makes me laugh!

This is really a journal in which she talks about her efforts to create the perfect garden in the home she shares with her German husband and their children.  Her garden is her retreat, her pet project, and her creative oasis for several years.  She has grand plans for it, but her series of German gardeners never quite seem to either approve of or understand those plans.  Still, she loves her garden.  I love to garden myself, and even though I don't have to deal with intractable gardeners, my little flower garden never quite does what I want it to either.  Gardens foster patience, I think.

But don't think that this book is boring because it's about an Australian who likes flowers and is married to a German.  It is hilarious.  Witty, wry, friendly, salty -- just altogether marvelous.  It reads like a series of letters from a sarcastic and yet kind friend, and I loved getting to read it in the springtime when my own flower gardening is underway.

Particularly Good Bits:

Sometimes I feel as if were blest above all my fellows in being able to find my happiness so easily (p. 15).

A woman's tongue is a deadly weapon and the most difficult thing in the world to keep in order, and things slip off it with a facility nothing short of appalling at the very moment when it ought to be most quiet (p. 25).

Well, trials are the portion of mankind, and gardeners have their share, and in any case it is better to be tried by plants than persons, seeing that with plants you know that it is you who are in the wrong, and with persons it is always the other way about (p. 57).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for some very pointed wit indeed.

This was my 20th book read and reviewed for my third Classics Club list, and my 23rd book read off my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2021

Friday, May 7, 2021

"Caraval" by Stephanie Garber

Um.  Wow.  So, yeah.  I binge-read Caraval.  Four hundred pages in two days.  While also teaching my kids, cooking meals, etc.  I can't remember the last time I read a new-to-me straight-up fantasy book that I liked this much.  Probably, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman was the last time I just fell into a fantasy world and didn't want to come out.

(MILD SPOILERS follow, basically just about whether or not some characters survive to the end of the book.)

As usual, it wasn't the fantasy world that grabbed me, it was the characters.  Write a story with a protective older sister who would literally die to save her younger sibling if she had to, and I will be interested.  Make that older sister na├»ve, helpful, stubborn, and cautious, on top of being protective, and I'm just going to be a total fan.  I am. Which is why I loved Scarlett from basically chapter two.  Which is why I inhaled this book, because I had to know she was going to be okay.  I mean, I figured she would be okay in the end, but I had to KNOW.  

The other characters... hmm.  I kept wanting to like Julian, but not trusting him enough to actually like him, but still really wanting to like him.  He kept reminding me of Loki in the MCU, and that is exactly the way I feel about Loki 99% of the time, so yeah.  He could grow on me, maybe.  Scarlett's sister Donatella... irked me a lot.  She also reminded me of Loki in some ways.  Like, she knew her older sister loved her and would do anything for her, but she also just kept doing things that would freak her sister out, and I got frustrated.  

But then there was Dante.  Depending on how Dante plays into the next two books, I could become a Dante fan.  Black-clad man of mystery with suspicious intentions lurking around the edges of the story?  Ohhhhh, yeah.  I could fall for that guy.  We shall see.


We definitely shall see, because I got books 2 and 3 from the library when I was only halfway through this one.  My kids and I finished their school year yesterday, so I am absolutely going to just inhale those two books too, to kick off my summer break.  And I can't wait.

So, what this book is actually about, if you're one of the tiny number of people on the planet who, like me, hadn't already read this trilogy, is a pair of sisters with a horrifying, abusive father who escape their island nation with a pirate named Julian, bound for this magical mystery circus place called Caraval.  And then Donatella gets kidnapped, and Scarlett has only a few days to find her, and she can't actually trust anyone in Caraval because everything is a game and an illusion, and the whole thing slides very, very sideways.  

Through the whole book, I kept being reminded of some vague something that it felt similar to.  Especially at the end.  It wasn't until this morning that I realized what that something is:  it's "Shore Leave," one of my favorite episodes of Classic Star Trek!!!  This was like "Shore Leave" crossed with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, so no wonder I dug it. 

I really liked a lot of the writing.  Some of it was a bit... rushed... but it's also a fast-paced adventure story, so me wishing it would slow down a little here and there may have been simply fall-out from me reading a lot of Jane Austen and J. R. R. Tolkien lately.  Garber had so many amazing turns of phrase and unexpected little descriptions that it reminded me a teeny bit of Raymond Chandler now and then.  Just a teeny bit.  Just here and there.  But I liked that too.

Now, there's a lot of suggestive content -- I should probably mention that.  People touching and kissing and almost kissing and pressing against each other.  I think maybe it would have been nice if Julian's torso hadn't been described quite so often as being "row after row of smooth, brown muscles."  (That's not a direct quote, but pretty close.)  I got that he's tan and muscly and lean the first time, thanks.  But... it's YA, and I wasn't that annoyed by it.  Nobody actually ends up having sex, but there's a scene where Scarlett definitely was about to be bedded by someone, except she found a way out of it, so... yeah.  Most of it is just people making unspecified suggestive remarks, looking other people over in sexy ways, and so on.  It never crossed the line out of my comfort zone, but I wouldn't let my kids read this until they were at least 16.  Just throwing that out there.

If This Was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-16 for the above-mentioned suggestive content, cruelty, and bloody violence.  Not actually gory, but there were sections with a lot of blood going everywhere.  I think there was also a sprinkling of bad language, but nothing major.

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Sense and Sensibility GIVEAWAY!

We did it!  We read Sense and Sensibility together, and I had so much fun digging deeply into the text with you.  To celebrate, I'm giving away five Jane Austen-esque prizes:

Prize 1: "The Air is Full of Spices" candle I bought from Northanger Soapworks.  This is one of my absolute favorite candles -- it smells like oranges and spices, and the name comes from a line of Col. Brandon's in the 1995 film version of Sense and Sensibility, where he describes what India is like for Margaret Dashwood.

Prize 2: "Turn About the Room" lip balm I bought from Northanger Soapworks.  It smells like peppermint and is both soothing and refreshing.

Prize 3:  Sheet of Sense and Sensibility stickers I bought from Vivi At Home Studio.  

Prize 4: Three bookmarks (left-hand set) I bought files from Allegra Digital for and printed myself, plus a portrait sticker of Jane Austen I bought from A Fine Quotation.  The bookmarks are double-sided!

Prize 5:  Three bookmarks (right-hand set) I bought files from Allegra Digital for and printed myself, plus an Austen bookstack sticker I bought from Vivi At Home Studio.  The bookmarks are double-sided!

This giveaway is open WORLDWIDE, to any country where the USPS delivers.  Enter via this widget:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

This giveaway will end at 11:59pm EST on Tuesday, May 11, 2021. I'll draw five winners on Wednesday, May 12, and announce them here on this blog that day, as well as alert them by the email provided to the widget. Use an email address you check often! If I don't receive a response from a winner by Wednesday, May 19, that winner will be disqualified and I'll draw another. 

This giveaway is open worldwide to anyone living in any country where the USPS delivers. I am not responsible for the activities of any postal service -- I will send off your prize in the condition shown above, but it's arrival condition is not something I can control. 

To enter, must be 18+ or have parent's permission to provide a mailing address. Void where prohibited. Not affiliated with Blogger, Google, Etsy, or any of the shops listed here. I purchased all these prizes, they were not donated or solicited in any way. I will use your email and mailing addresses solely for the purpose of this giveaway. They will not be saved by me to use another way or provided to anyone else.

S&S Read-Along: Ch. 49 & 50

Here we are!  All done! 

Whew.  All's well that ends well.  I'm sorry if you were expecting a big, romantic proposal scene, but Austen tends not to indulge in those.  She's more interested in the overall relationships of the characters with each other, I think, and not just here for the kissy stuff.  For which I am very appreciative, overall.  I'm not a big fan of the kissy stuff either.

Anyway, I chuckled a lot over these last two chapters.  Austen gets pretty feisty, doesn't she?  Poking fun at Edward's habit of getting engaged to young ladies without consulting his mother.  And the whole opening of the last chapter made me laugh aloud multiple times, about Edward being "resuscitated" because his mother decided to forgive and reinstate him, and so on.  Oh, man.  That was pretty priceless.  And then she gets a little snarky at how Colonel Brandon never measures up to Marianne's original ideal of a Romantic Hero... but it's okay, because Marianne grows to love him anyway.  Awww.

Some interesting monetary information from the notes in my annotated copy, as to how much Elinor and Edward will have to live on.  His mother gives him ten thousand pounds, and the notes say this "would produce five hundred a year in income."  Edward also is expecting about two hundred and fifty pounds a year from his 'living.'  Also, Edward had two thousand pounds of his own, and Elinor had one thousand, which together would give them another one hundred and fifty income every year (you just live off the interest of your money, basically).  So, all told, "their income would be nine hundred a year" (p. 699).  Waaaaaaaaaay at the beginning of the book, Elinor said she thought a young couple would require a thousand pounds a year to be undoubtedly happy, so she's not quite going to make it to that amount at this time, but she's certainly going to be comfortably off.

And that's it!  We're done!  I'm working on my celebratory giveaway post now, and I'll have that up as soon as I get it finished.  This evening, I hope!

Thank you, everyone who participated.  This was a lot of fun for me, and I hope it was for you too!  Don't worry, you can keep discussing this for as long as you like.  In fact, here are a couple final discussion questions:

1.  Does Elinor get a character arc?  Does she change or grow over the course of this book?  Or is she just here to provide counterpoint to Marianne, making Marianne the actual heroine?

2.  Marianne + Col. Brandon -- do you love their pairing, or not?  And why?

S&S Read-Along: Ch. 47 & 48

So Much Suspense!  I don't know about you, but I really didn't want to stop reading at the end of chapter 48, so I am going to try to post this quick, read the last two chapters, and post about them today too.  Because yikes, the end of 48 is a wretched place to stop.

I love this line about Elinor's thinking process:  "Reflection had given a calmness to her judgment, and sobered her opinion of Willoughby's deserts" (p. 650).  Not only is it important not to make snap judgments, but it's also important to realize that our emotions can be swayed by a forceful personality, and those emotions can affect our reason.  When Willoughby is present and pleading his case, even Elinor can't quite resist his charm.  But when he's gone, she takes the time to think over what she now knows about him, and his claims, and can see them much more clearly.  Something for us all to remember and try to follow!

I'm really happy for Marianne, that she realizes that even if she had married Willoughby, she would not have been happy with him forever.  She would eventually, inevitably have learned about his seduction and abandonment of Eliza, and she would have lost all respect and even love for him.  I think this must be of a great comfort for her, realizing she hasn't missed out on lasting happiness and love.

In fact, she realizes that her own happiness "never was his object" (p. 654).  He was thoroughly selfish in his love, only caring about how it made him feel, not about how it would affect her.  Another important lesson for us, to be careful not to give our love to those who care only about their own happiness and well-being, not our own.  In fact, I personally feel like that's one way you can tell if a relationship could last -- do both people in it put the other person's welfare and interests above their own?  (And if they both put God first, the other person second, and themselves last, then I think you've got an unbeatable romance there.)


And then, their servant drops the big bomb.  Miss Lucy Steele is now Mrs. Lucy Ferrars.  Dun-dun-dun.  (At least we didn't end with THAT chapter!)  Happily, neither the Dashwoods nor ourselves are left in the misunderstanding of which Mr. Ferrars Lucy married -- not for long, anyway.  Edward arrives, announces that he's unmarried, but Lucy has married Robert, and then off he goes because honestly, that's enough news for one day, am I right?

What does Elinor do?  Does she go into hysterics?  No, that's Marianne, and she's not even the one involved in this love quadrangle!  Elinor *almost* runs out of the room (running was unladylike, especially in the house, so she maintains proper behavior even now) and closes the door behind her... and then "burst into tears of joy, which at first she thought would never cease" (p. 670).  Final, definite proof that it's not that Elinor doesn't feel deeply, but that she "will be mistress" of herself (p. 666).  No one is going to control her by playing on her emotions, the way Willoughby preyed on Marianne -- she controls her emotions herself, so no one else can.  

Yeah, I don't want to stop here, so I'm going to read the next couple chapters as soon as my kids finish school.  Here's hoping I have time to post about them yet today too.  And then... the giveaway!  And we'll be done!

Discussion Questions:

1.  Do you think Willoughby will continue to regret losing Marianne, or is he going to move on pretty quickly?

2.  Did you just read straight on to the end instead of stopping here? 

Monday, May 3, 2021

"The Lady and the Lionheart" by Joanne Bischof

I'm glad I read this book for two reasons.

One, it's shown me several pitfalls NOT to stumble into with my own Beauty and the Beast retelling, which I'm currently writing the first draft of.  Such as, if your 'beast' is going to have some kind of physical 'otherness' that is supposed to be shocking and off-putting... make it something that actually would be shocking and off-putting. 

Two, it hammered home the fact that Research Really Matters.  A lot.  And getting lazy with your research is not okay.  Especially not in the age of Wikipedia.  Now, this book is set in 1890.  My own books are set from 1866 to 1884, so far, which means I have a reasonable idea of what kinds of words, fabrics, slang terms, music styles, and things of that ilk are contemporaneous to the last half of the 19th century...and also with how easy it is to find out if they're period-correct or not.  

For example, hey, guess what?  In 1890, no random chick in Virginia is going to know what ragtime music is.  It's just barely being invented in New Orleans right then, and it'll be years before it becomes mainstream enough that a random chick in Virginia would be able to recognize it, much less spontaneously play ragtime music on a piano (and that after not having touched a piano for five years).  And that's just the one thing that I was so annoyed over that I ranted to Cowboy over it for minutes on end, so I still remember it vividly.  There were a lot of other things that yanked me out of the story because I wondered so hard if they were accurate or not.  

I HATE being yanked out of a story by having my credulity stretched until it snaps.  (I also kept getting yanked out by the sloppy/clunky writing... and I'm not sure which annoyed me more.)

Also, if you're going to write about a 7-month-old baby, maybe check with the parents of some 7-month-old babies to see if what you're having this fictional kid do and eat is plausible.  I know it's been 8 1/2 years since I had a 7-month-old, but... most babies that age don't have very many teeth, for one thing.  They can gum soft foods like bread, but... I'm just sayin'.

I suppose I should briefly mention what this book is about.  A young woman named Ella who dreams of becoming a nurse comes to the rescue of a man named Charlie and his sick baby.  Charlie is a lion-tamer in the circus.  (He's actually named Richard Lionheart, because subtlety is not a big thing with this book.)  Ella is beautiful and Charlie has shaggy hair and tattoos, so that makes them Beauty and the Beast.  Romance ensues.

(Mine from my Instagram.)

(SPOILERS IN THIS PARAGRAPH).  So, the tattoos.  I know that they were a way bigger deal in the past than they are now.  Especially in the Victorian era, when people were Extra Sensitive about certain things.  But I really can't think of any evidence from any of my own historical research that would make me believe that people then found them so disgusting that, wow, it would be a tough choice between getting a lot of tattoos or becoming a male whore.  The whole tattoo thing seemed blown way out of proportion.  Yes, they're permanent.  Yes, they're unusual in that era, for people who weren't sailors or South Sea Islanders.  Yes, circuses would have a Tattooed Man or a Tattooed Lady as a curiosity or "freak" in their sideshows.  But... I did not buy that there was any reason for Charlie to assume that the fact that he had tattoos would make him unmarriageable or unfit for ordinary human interaction.  Seemed very contrived to me.

(MORE SPOILERS)  Also, while we're at it, what was up with the semi-erotic scene where Ella touches Charlie all over his bare chest and back and arms?  Now THAT would have been completely unacceptable behavior in Victorian times.  No way was she going to feel comfortable doing that, especially not with her lingering trauma from her rape five years earlier.  That felt very much like the whole scene was just there to give female readers a chance to vicariously get all hot and bothered, and I was NOT cool with it.


The romance in this is sweet and relatable, and I really did love Charlie in particular.  Men with Sad Pasts and Kind Hearts always draw me, you know.  But every time I'd get drawn into the story by the characters, I'd get thrown out again by the clunky writing.  I know this is an earlier book by this author, so maybe her writing skills have grown to match her story-creating skills by now...

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-16 for memories of a teen girl's rape, a visit to a brothel, suggestive comments made by minor characters.  There's also some kissing, but that's tame.

This is my 20th book read from my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2021.

Sunday, May 2, 2021

S&S Read-Along: Ch. 45 & 46

We only have four chapters left after this!  Only two more posts!  Oh my goodness.  Well, I suppose I should mention right now that I'll be holding a small giveaway when we finish this, with Austen-inspired goodies and so on.  Just in case you need something to look forward to ;-)

Right, so, on to the chapters at hand.  Elinor is clearly a better person than I am.  She is way more willing to think of good things to remember about Willoughby than I would be.  So, um, good for her.

I do get a little annoyed that Mrs. Dashwood is almost acting like Edward never existed, though.  Like, she never commiserates with Elinor about losing him.  At all.  I get that she's focused on Marianne's brush with death, but she takes time to discuss Willoughby.  Not Edward, though.  Poor Elinor.  Not that she probably wants her mom to really talk about him much, but it would be nice to know she cares and sympathizes, you know?

It's struck me, this time through the book, that Marianne has gotten a way bigger character arc than Elinor.  She started out indulging her every passion and refusing to take time to think anything through, and now she's learned to be calm and reasonable.  She's learned and grown.  But what's Elinor's arc?  I know we're not to the end of the book yet, but so far, Elinor started out reasonable and self-controlled, and she's still reasonable and self-controlled.  Hmm.

Discussion Questions:

1.  Do you think Marianne will stick to her resolution to "divide every moment between music and reading" (p. 640) all summer?

2.  Do you agree with Marianne when she says, "My own feelings had prepared my sufferings" (p. 644)?  If she had behaved less passionately, would her suffering have been any less?

Saturday, May 1, 2021

"The Last Fire-Eater" by Charity Bishop

I was fairly convinced through almost this whole book that history wasn't going to let Charity Bishop give the couple at the center of this story a happy ending, and I was kinda mad about that.  Because I got attached to the title character very quickly, and I needed a happy ending for her.  Needed it, I say!  

Lambert Simnel, titular character of The Queen's Falconer (the previous book in the Tudor Throne series), gradually falls in love with Davina, a young woman who knows the secrets of fire eating.  They're both part of a massive entourage accompanying Princess Margaret to Scotland for her marriage to King James there.  Davina has more secrets than just how to handle fire, and the truth about her past ends up threatening to separate them forever.

SPOILER!  Happily, Bishop bends history just a smidge to give them a happy ending.  All is well.  END SPOILER

Sir Thomas Lovell gets a kinder, gentler role in this book than usual, and even makes amends with his wife, Lady Isabel, over the course of the journey.  But don't worry, he got to do quite a bit of rescuing, conniving, threatening, skulking, and generally being a dark hero.  Which made me happy, as he's been my favorite in this series since the beginning.

Although this is part of the Tudor Throne Series, I think you could read it as a stand-alone and not be lost.  This book in particular works well as a self-contained story.  So if you've been curious about Bishop's books, or if you just want to try out some new history-based fiction, I definitely think you could jump into the series here and be fine.

NOTE: I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.  I was not asked or required to leave a review, positive or otherwise.  All opinions are my own.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 for some smooching, a wife and husband who desire each other, and some medieval violence.

This is my 19th book read from my TBR stash for #TheUnreadShelfProject2021.  

Friday, April 30, 2021

S&S Read-Along: Ch. 43 & 44

But wait!  There's more!  Now, in the space of only two chapters, you can get a near-deadly illness AND a visit from a self-absorbed ex-lover!  All for the low, low price of learning to understand your actions and the people around you.  Act now, Marianne, before these opportunities are gone for good!

Um, so, yeah.  Exciting times in these two chapters, eh?  First, Marianne almost succumbs to a terrible fever, which Mrs. Jennings suspects is a "putrid" fever.  My annotated copy says that means she thinks she probably thinks it's typhus.  So you can understand why Mrs. Palmer evacuates her baby as swiftly as possible!  They did understand that being near a sick person could spread that disease to you, even if germs weren't quite understood yet at this time.

And once again, hurrah for Mrs. Jennings!  I love how she, "with a kindness of heart which made Elinor really love her, declared her resolution of not stirring from Cleveland as long as Marianne remained ill" (p. 574).  What an absolute wonder she is. 

Oh, quick note about them calling the apothecary for Marianne, since my mom asked me what was up with that.  According to the annotated edition, "The apothecary was the most basic medical practitioner, who would respond to normal illnesses, give advice, and prescribe medicines" (p. 573).  Elsewhere, it explains that when someone got sick, you would first try home remedies, and most women had at least some experience nursing ill people because most illnesses would be treated at home.  And home remedies were generally about as effective as a doctor's for most things, honestly.  

So you would maybe call an apothecary to get some medicines or remedies you didn't have on hand, but you only called a physician in very extreme cases.  Physicians had attended school to learn medicine, and they treated illnesses, but didn't do surgery.  Surgeons did surgery, and they tended to have the most medical training, but they didn't treat illnesses, just did things like stitching up wounds and amputating limbs and other surgical things.  ANYWAY, that's why they called the apothecary, who was kind of like our pharmacists today, but did house calls?  And why they talk about sending for an actual physician when Marianne gets worse.  They probably would have had to send to a large town or even to London to get one of those.

But all within a few pages, the danger is past and Marianne is recovering, whew.  I'm really glad Austen doesn't drag this out for chapter after chapter.  Aren't you?  I think that could be a big temptation for an author to milk the illness for lots of drama, but Austen knows their lives are dramatic enough already without a prolonged illness.

And then she just tosses Willoughby into the very end of the chapter, like *BOOM!* 

And now, yeah, any shred of sympathy I might maybe have been feeling for Willoughby are completely blown out of sight by his absolute self-absorbtion.  Notice that he's not here to check on Marianne and make sure she's okay, or even to ask how she's doing.  He's only here because he can't bear the idea that she might die while thinking badly of him.  Everything he says is focused on himself, his feelings, his desires.  It's a giant pity party he tries to disguise as concern for Marianne, and I am just... done with him.  He even flat out says that the reason he came himself instead of just writing a letter was because it "was necessary to [his] own pride" (p. 604).  So at least he's self-aware enough to realize that, but still.  Ugh.

Elinor is pretty done with him too, I think.  She even scolds him, pointing out, "You have made your own choice.  It was not forced on you.  Your wife has a claim to your politeness, to your respect" (p. 614).  From Elinor, that's a pretty fierce scolding.

And here we are again, with people making Elinor relay news for them.  Prevously, Colonel Brandon asked her to tell Marianne all his revelations about Willoughby's mistreatment of his ward.  Then he asks Elinor to offer the living at Delaford to Edward.  And now Willoughby wants Elinor to tell Marianne he really did love her and never intended to seduce her.  Poor Elinor!  All these hard messages to relate.  Yeesh.

Anyway.  Good-bye, Willoughby, and good riddance.

Discussion Questions: 

1.  Why do people keep making Elinor give other people messages and news?

2.  Do you have any sympathy left for Willoughby by now?  Do you think I'm being too harsh on him?