Thursday, October 14, 2021

"Woman in the Dark" by Dashiell Hammett

After rereading Trouble is My Business by Raymond Chandler last month, I began to crave more hardboiled detective stories of that same era.  But I have a strict rule about only reading one Chandler book a year that I only fudge on in the must extreme circumstances.  And this didn't feel extreme.  So I had the happy thought of rereading Dashiell Hammett's books.  I read all his novels and short stories in one fell swoop almost 20 years ago, with the result that I can only remember the ones that I've also seen movie versions of, namely The Thin Man, The Maltese Falcon, and The Glass Key.  And even those, I know, are somewhat different from the movies, though I can't remember how.

So, I'm rereading a bunch of Dashiell Hammett.  Some friends on Instagram are hosting #AMonthOfMystery for October, challenging participants to read a lot of mysteries in October because why not?  So I'm joining that because I never need any excuse to read more mysteries and talk about them with bookish friends.  And Woman in the Dark is my first book read for that event.

It's not quite even a novel, really -- it's a slim novella.  But whatever.  It was really enjoyable.  I found myself rooting so hard for Brazil, an ex-con with a temper and dangerous fists, and Luise Fischer, a kept woman trying to get away from the brute who thinks he should be allowed to keep her.  Everything goes sideways and down for a long time, but there's a surprisingly hopeful ending that I absolutely loved.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-16 for oblique references to sex, considerable violence, and some bad language.

Monday, October 11, 2021

"Hamlet" by Alexandre Dumas

No, the title of this post is not a typo.  Alexandre Dumas, the guy who wrote The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers and so on, also translated Shakespeare's Hamlet into French.  And then I read a translation into English by Frank Morlock of his translation into French.  Which sounds like a waste of time, since I can just read Hamlet in English any time I want to, and have often done so.  BUT.

But Alexandre Dumas didn't so much translate Hamlet as retell it.  He trimmed it considerably (there's no Fortinbras, for instance), he pepped up the dialog even more, and... ::drumroll please:: he changed the ending.


Not tons!  It still ends with a swordfight between Hamlet and Laertes, and dead people strewn all over the stage.  But one character who dies in Shakespeare's Hamlet lives in this one, and the Ghost makes an extra appearance in this one, and it's just really fantastically fun to read!

I knew going in that the ending was going to be different because there's an opera version of Hamlet with music by Ambroise Thomas and libretto by Michel Carre and Jules Barbier that is based on Dumas' translation rather than Shakespeare's original.  I've seen the 2004 production starring Simon Keenlyside, which is fantastic, though the changed ending just shocked my socks off the first time I saw it.  When I discovered this translation in print, I knew I had to read it!  And I'm so glad I did.

Note from the cover that the volume it's in is called Shakespeare in France and includes a translation of George Sand's French translation of As You Like It also, both translated by Frank Morlock.  I only read the Hamlet.  So I'm only reviewing that.  But if you want to find this yourself, look for it as Shakespeare in France and you'll have an easier time finding it.

Particularly Good Bits:

Polonius:  ...his shipwrecked heart struggles and forgets itself (p. 51)

Hamlet:  The stage is a mirror where man, such as he is, good and bad, must see himself (p. 59).

King:  You are speaking like an enigma and I don't understand you at all.
Hamlet:  Me neither (p. 70).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 even though it cuts down a lot on the obsession with Gertrude being in Claudius's bed now.  Still a lot of innuendo and violence.

This has been my 29th book read and reviewed for my third Classics Club list and my 41st for #TheUnreadShelfProject2021.

Friday, October 8, 2021

"Trouble is My Business" by Raymond Chandler

This is a collection of four long short stories, or maybe four short novellas?  They have chapters, which inclines me more toward calling them novellas.  Whatever.  This book collects four different cases for Philip Marlowe to solve, how's that?

In "Trouble is My Business," Marlowe is hired to protect a wealthy playboy from a gold-digger, but he discovers that a much bigger, nastier crime than that is waiting just offstage, and he'll have to clear that up too.

In "Finger Man," Marlowe is hired to protect a gambler who visits a rival's casino, and when murder ensues, Marlowe gets framed for it and has to find the real killer before it's too late.

In "Goldfish," Marlowe is hired to find some stolen pearls that have been hidden away for years and years.  He finds them, all right, but there's a twist that I didn't see coming and really liked.

In "Red Wind," a man gets murdered right in front of Marlowe, and since the police can't seem to get anywhere on the case, he solves it himself, along with a related murder.  Marlowe's a little kinder in this one than he's sometimes able to be, which I liked.

These are not my favorite Philip Marlowe mysteries, and the short story format forces Chandler to be a little less fantastic with his prose and descriptions -- I think novels gave him more room to play, which he needed.  Still, this was an absolute treat to read.  I made myself only read one story each day so I could savor the pleasure of reading my favorite author just as long as I could.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 for violence, cussing, and innuendo.  Nothing dirty, but it's not a book for kids, either.

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

"Little Town on the Prairie" by Laura Ingalls Wilder

I remember really liking this book as a kid, mostly because it meant the Long Winter was over and I didn't have to worry about the Ingalls family anymore.  This is a very upbeat, hopeful book in which Laura turns from child to almost-an-adult.  I wish I had navigated that transition as gracefully as she does.

I hadn't remembered just how shy she is, and how much she wrote about being socially awkward, especially when she first began to make friends with other teen girls.  But no wonder I identified so strongly with her when I was growing up!  I've always had a little social anxiety (sometimes a lot), with the difficulties in making new friends and entering new situations that comes with that, and it was really neat as an adult to recognize that in Laura too.

Also, Almanzo Wilder is really sweet.  We kept cracking up over how Laura couldn't figure out why he wanted to walk her home.

Yes, this is the book where Pa and other men of the town dress in "blackface" and perform a minstrel show.  Because I was reading this aloud to my kids and husband while driving around on vacation, we were able to have a good discussion about how culture changes over time.  What was completely acceptable in one age may not be in another.  Discussions like that are such a cool side benefit of reading this series aloud.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG because I do think kids need an adult's guidance through that section so they understand that it's not okay for white people to pretend to be black people today.

This is my 28th book read and reviewed for my third Classics Club list.

Monday, October 4, 2021

"Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" by J. K. Rowling

It took me a couple of months to read this book.  Not because it is hard to read, or because it's 870 pages long, but because I knew what was coming at the end and I just kept dragging my feet about getting there.  Also, I was loving how much Sirius Black gets to be in this one!  He gets more page-time in it than in the previous two books combined, and I adore that.  So much Sirius.

(Spoilers in this paragraph if you haven't read this book or seen this movie.)  Of course, Sirius is also why I didn't want to get to the end of this.  Because he dies, and it's such a sudden, gut-punch kind of death that I did not want to reach it.  Interestingly, I didn't cry when he died this time.  I cried a little later, when Harry unwrapped the mirror he could have been using all this time to communicate safely and easily with Sirius, but never got around to opening.  The thought of Sirius checking that mirror over and over for months, always hoping Harry would be there, and always being disappointed really got to me.

I will admit, though, that this was a hard read because it felt horribly relevant right now.  A proliferation of little rules to try to control every aspect of someone's lives?  Rules about who can go where and with whom, demands for compliance with things individuals don't agree with, firing people for not toeing every new line drawn arbitrarily in the sand, and a general attack on personal freedoms... no, that doesn't sound familiar at all, does it?  I'm sick of it in real life, and so reading a fictional version of that was not enjoyable.  I like my reading to be a time to experience new things, not be reminded of what I'm currently going through, and that's never been truer than this past 18 months or so.  

But I did finish it.  I did enjoy it, on a whole.  I'm very much looking forward to the next book, though I have some October reading commitments that mean I might have to put off book 6 until next month.  We'll see.

Particularly Good Bits:

"No, like all young people, you are quite sure that you alone feel and think, you alone recognize danger, you alone are the only one clever enough to realize what the Dark Lord may be planning..." (p. 496).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for a lot of danger and peril, some child abuse and torture, and more bad language than in the previous books, though still nothing strongly offensive to me.

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

"The Little Paris Bookshop" by Nina George

Well, that was charming, if ultimately kind of hollow.

I picked this book up at an airport bookstore on my way home from visiting my parents earlier this month.  I'd seen it on Instagram a few times, and it sounded really enjoyable.  I generally like books about people who like books.  No surprise there, right?

And I did like this book pretty well, overall.  It's all about Jean, a 50-yr-old man who learns the real fate of the woman he loved and lost 20 years earlier, and works through his grief by travelling to her home in the French countryside.  He owns and runs a bookshop on a barge in Paris, and he just takes off on his floating bookstore one day.  His neighbor Max, a bestselling author who's trying to escape his rabid new fans, comes along for the ride.

They travel by river; they travel by car.  They meet lots of interesting people, and they do a lot of soul-searching.  And they both find the peace they're looking for.  Also, they talk a lot about books and how they affect us.  All of that, I liked.  Jean was very likeable, and Max grew on me.  By the end, Max may have been my favorite.

What I didn't like was the love story that Jean was trying to come to terms with and put behind him.  Twenty years earlier, he had been in love with a woman named Manon.  She was married, but her husband never came to Paris with her on her visits, and she spent those visits in Jean's bed.  They carried on an adulterous affair for five years, and this is all supposed to be somehow just fine and understandable.  Why?  Because Manon simply could never be satisfied with sharing her life with only one man -- she was too large a spirit, or too varied a person, or something.

Toward the end of the book, I realized suddenly that Manon was essentially a Manic Pixie Dream Girl.  She was a plot device, only here to give Jean a reason to brood and mourn and search his soul for meaning or whatever.  She was too much to be real.  And the weird thing is, I tend to be fond of Manic Pixie Dream Girls.  They usually don't bug me.  I really love quirky, oddball characters, male or female.  But Manon... bugged me.  And a lot of that is because she insisted on adultery being her right, and she wrecked Jean's life and her husband's life in a lot of ways because she refused to see the meaning or power of contentment.  Yet she's adulated and revered by the author, through the characters, and that left a really bad taste in my mouth.

So, in the end, I enjoyed this book.  I cried at the end, in a good way.  But it's not one I will reread or even recommend.  I did really appreciate that it showed that love and romance are not only for hot people in their twenties, and that love and forgiveness are very closely interconnected.  But, ultimately, I was not charmed the way I would like to have been.

Particularly Good Bits:

Memories are like wolves.  You can't lock them away and hope they leave you alone (p. 5).

"Do you think only people in books do crazy things?" (p. 93).

Nobody would ever wise up if they hadn't at some stage been young and stupid (p. 129).

Reading -- an an endless journey; a long, indeed never-ending journey that made one more temperate as well as more loving and kind.  Max had set out on that journey.  With each book he would absorb more of the world, things and people (p. 142).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: R.  It has a lot of sex scenes, some of them semi-graphic and some of them not.  They creep up on you and ambush you with little warning, getting woven into the story in a way that makes them very hard to see coming.  I did a lot of, "Oh!  Oh my.  Skim skim skim skim skim... I think it's safe now?" kinds of reading, which was annoying.

This was my 40th book read off my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2021.

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Wrapping Up the 2021 Tolkien Blog Party

Well, here we are at the end of another Tolkien Blog Party.  Thank you so much for participating!  If you've still got a post or two you want to contribute, it's not too late!  You can add your link to the widget below any time still.  And if you haven't had a chance to visit everyone's posts yet (like I haven't -- but I will read them all eventually!), here are all the links again, to make it easier for you to find them:

I've had such a wonderful time discussing J.R.R. Tolkien with you, playing party games, and so on.  I hope you've had fun too.  I'm already looking forward to next year!

Winners of the 2021 Tolkien Giveaway

This year's Tolkien blog party is winding down.  Since it's the last day, it's time to pick the giveaway winners!  Congratulations to these nine Tolkienites:

Prize 1 (mug) -- CC
Prize 2 (leaf pin) -- Samantha B.
Prize 3 (cards) -- Stephanie BMMR
Prize 4 (bookmark) -- Shire Rose
Prize 5 (sticker sheet) -- Eva S.
Prize 6 (3 b&w stickers) -- Kathy Eyre
Prize 7 (3 color stickers) -- Olivia R.
Prize 8 (Hobbit Companion) -- Ivy Miranda
Prize 9 (Letters of Tolkien) -- Mary H.

I'll be emailing all of you in a few minutes, asking where you'd like your prizes mailed off to.  So, please check the email address you submitted to the giveaway widget!

To everyone who didn't win -- there's always next year!  :-)

Answers to the Middle-earth Food Quiz

Here are the answers to this year's quiz with everyone's scores below!  How did you do?

1. Apples -- YES
2. Bacon -- YES
3. Blackberries -- YES
4. Butter -- YES
5. Cheese -- YES
6. Chocolate -- NO
7. Coffee -- YES
8. Eggs -- YES
9. Garlic -- NO
10. Honey -- YES
11. Mushrooms -- YES
12. Pickles -- YES
13. Potatoes -- YES
14. Salad -- YES
15. Tomatoes -- NO

Most of these appear in the first chapter of The Hobbit, "An Unexpected Party."  The others appear elsewhere either in The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings.  

Basically, Tolkien did not include any New World foods in Middle-earth except potatoes.  Potatoes were so dear to his heart, such an integral part of the rural English cuisine he was celebrating, that he had to keep them.  But the three on this list that are NOT in the books -- chocolate, garlic, and tomatoes -- are all New World foods (native to the Americas) and thus excluded (even though tomatoes make a memorable appearance in the ROTK movie).  Coffee originally comes from Arabia, so he included it.


Bea -- 12
Catherine Hawthorn -- 12
The Far Side of Forever -- 12
Ivy Miranda -- 12
Shire Rose -- 11
Eva -- 10
Livia Rachelle -- 10
Pages to Remember -- 10
Chloe the Movie Critic -- 8
Mary H. -- 8
Samantha -- 7

Thursday, September 23, 2021

"The Adventures of Tom Bombadil" by J. R. R. Tolkien

I did not realize this is a collection of poetry!  I thought it was going to be short stories like Smith of Wootton Major and Farmer Giles of Ham, but about Tom Bombadil instead.  But it's not, it's poetry.  

The edition I read, which is the one pictured here, contains the poems that Tolkien published under this title in the '60s, plus a whole lot of commentary on the poems, earlier variations of them, explanations of their history, discussions of how they fit into his Middle-earth world, and so on.  There's more of that than of the poetry itself, really.

The poems themselves are not long, and quite varied.  Tolkien states, in his preface, that they come from the Red Book of Westmarch, in the Shire, but they were collected from different places.  Some of them are attributed to Bilbo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee.

My favorites were "The Hoard" and "Shadow-Bride."  

"The Hoard" is about a sort of cursed treasure that various people acquire and then waste their lives guarding, only to lose it to someone else when they die.  It doesn't do anyone any good, least of all those who 'own' it, and is rather a dark and cautionary tale.

"Shadow-Bride" is mysterious and ethereal and a little spooky.  An immovable man-statue suddenly comes to life when a shadowy woman comes near him, they embrace, and become a double-statue that only comes back to life at certain times.  Or something.  Like I said, it's fairly mysterious -- but that's what I liked about it.

If you love Tolkien, especially his poetry, this is a lot of fun.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for a bit of violence here and there, and some imagery that might scare small kids, but there's nothing harmful here.

This has been my 27th book read and reviewed for my third Classics Club list and my 39th from my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2021.  This has also been another contribution to my 2021 Tolkien Blog Party :-)

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Middle-earth Food Quiz: A Party Game

Tolkien's books are full of food.  I get hungry just reading them!  This particular quiz tests whether or not specific foods are mentioned in either The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings -- the BOOKS.  Not whether they appear in the movies, but whether Tolkien mentioned them in those two books, meaning they do exist canonically in Middle-earth.

You just have to say "yes" if they are mentioned, and "no" if they aren't!

1. Apples
2. Bacon
3. Blackberries
4. Butter
5. Cheese
6. Chocolate
7. Coffee
8. Eggs
9. Garlic
10. Honey
11. Mushrooms
12. Pickles
13. Potatoes
14. Salad
15. Tomatoes

I'll put comments on full moderation so no one can copy your answers.  I'll post everyone's scores, and the correct answers, on Saturday!

Monday, September 20, 2021

Meet Me in Middle-earth: A Party Game

Want to hang out with me in Middle-earth for a day or two?  Wouldn't that be an absolute dream?  Well, we can imagine we're doing just that, using the following to determine where we'll meet and what we'll do.  Share your adventure in the comments so we can all enjoy!


Where do you and I meet up?  Your favorite warm beverage determines our adventure's location:

  • Coffee = Minas Tirith
  • Tea = Hobbiton
  • Hot Chocolate = Rivendell
  • Hot Apple Cider = Edoras
  • Chai = Lothlorien
  • Mulled wine = Moria
  • Other = The Lonely Mountain


Who else comes on this adventure with us?  The first initial of your best friend's first name determines our companions:

  • A-E = Frodo and Samwise
  • F-J = Merry and Pippin
  • K-O = Bilbo and Gandalf
  • P-T = Legolas and Gimli
  • U-Z = Eomer and Eowyn


What are we setting off to achieve today?  Your favorite movie genre determines our quest:

  • Action/adventure = Stop your half-brother from taking over the world with his creepy army
  • Comedy = Find the perfect location for a birthday party
  • Drama = Escort three weary warriors home and reunite them with their families
  • Fantasy = Rescue your intended spouse from the clutches of your rival
  • Mystery = Recover a priceless relic covered in fabulous jewels
  • Period Drama = Stop a greedy landlord from turning your parents out of their house
  • Romantic Comedy = Deliver a decades-old love note that got lost in the post office
  • Sci-Fi = Reunite you with your father and free your allies from an evil tyrant with his help
  • Thriller = Convince the authorities you are not an enemy spy
  • Western = Find the low-down, dirty skunk that shot your pa
(If your favorite movie genre isn't listed, just pick the one you like best from those options.)


Naturally, our adventure has to have some complications and setbacks!  How many siblings you have (not counting yourself) determines how complicated things get:
  • 0 = We are attacked by giant spiders, but successfully beat them off.
  • 1 = We are pursued by a band of Uruk-hai for three whole days, until they get bored.
  • 2 = We lose all our food while trying to cross a fast river.
  • 3 = We almost get eaten by trolls, but are rescued by a friend at the last minute.
  • 4 = We get lost and wander around a swamp for two days before finding the road again.
  • 5 or more = We get sidetracked by hunting for treasure, which we find.


How does it all turn out?  The time you went to bed last night determines whether we succeed or fail:

  • Before 9 pm: We succeed, and everyone lives happily ever after.
  • Between 9 and 10 pm: We succeed, but not all of us are happy about it.
  • Between 10 and 11 pm: We succeed, but we wish we hadn't.
  • Between 11 pm and midnight: We succeed, but you take an arrow to the knee.
  • Between midnight and 1 am: We fail, and you and I both get thrown in a dungeon.
  • After 1 am: We fail, and everyone dies.

Now just put that all together!  

For instance, I would meet up with you at Rivendell, along with Frodo and Samwise, and we would all set off to find the low-down, dirty skunk that shot my pa.  We are pursued by a band of Uruk-hai for three whole days, but they get bored and go home, so we eventually succeed, though I take an arrow to the knee and limp for the rest of my life.  Sigh.  Oh well, it could be worse!

Your turn! 

Sunday, September 19, 2021

A Tolkien Blog Party 2021 -- Kick-Off Post + Tag

Welcome, hobbits and humans, elves and dwarves, and all free peoples!  Welcome to the ninth annual Tolkien Blog Party.

Nine is such a significant number in Lord of the Rings.  There are nine companions in the fellowship of the Ring, nine Nazgul, and so on.  I'm really excited that this event has been so long-lived!  I look forward to hosting it every year.  I collect up prizes for the giveaway for months.  It's such a delight to share the love of Tolkien's storytelling with you, year after year!

Speaking of the giveaway, I posted that a couple minutes ago, so you can check out the prizes and enter it right here.  It's open worldwide, as always!

I did something a little different with this year's tag, to reflect the theme of nine.  Here it is:

1. Aragorn: Favorite Tolkien hero/heroine

2. Boromir: Favorite Tolkien character arc

3. Frodo: Favorite song or poem by Tolkien

4. Gandalf: Favorite wise Tolkien quotation

5. Gimli: A Middle-earth location you'd like to visit

6. Legolas: Favorite Middle-earth Weapon

7. Merry: Favorite way to celebrate Tolkien's stories

8. Pippin: Favorite funny Tolkien quotation

9. Samwise: A Middle-earth food you'd like to try

Just copy that to your own blog and answer it, then be sure to share a link to your post in the widget below.

Like last year, you are not limited to doing that tag, when it comes to participating in this party!  You can contribute ANY Tolkien-related post, as long as it is new. (Please don't link to something you posted last year, for instance.) 

Anything Tolkien-related is welcome -- it doesn't have to revolve around Middle-earth. You could review a book by or about Tolkien, share thoughts about the movies, list off your favorite Tolkien quotations, share your collection of LOTR merch, whatever! There's no sign-up sheet, just post what you want to and then share your post via this link-up:

Don't forget to add a button to your posts!  I think these are my favorite buttons of any I've made for this event.  Practice makes perfect?  Anyway, be sure to link back to this post so your blog followers can come party with us.

I'll be posting a couple of games over the course of this week, so be sure to check back for those!  Especially since participating in them can gain you bonus entries in the giveaway.

Thank you for joining me to celebrate the inspirational storytelling of J. R. R. Tolkien.  I hope you'll have fun, enjoy reading each others' posts, and maybe even make some new friends. I'm so glad you're here!

Giveaway for Tolkien Blog Party 2021

Since this is the ninth annual Tolkien Blog Party, I am giving away nine prizes!  Here are details:

Prize 1: A camp-style mug that says Gandalf's line "Go where you must go, and hope," which I purchased from Crab Apple Books and More

Prize 2: A "leaf of Lorien" pin/necklace -- the leaf has a pinback, but is also on a chain, so you can wear it either way

Prize 3: A pack of Lord of the Rings-themed playing cards

Prize 4: A "Bag End" bookmark I purchased from Austens and Alcotts

Prize 5: A sheet of Middle-earth-inspired stickers I bought from Alla Draws

Prize 6: A set of 3 black-and-white stickers inspired by Tolkien's own artwork featuring a) the tree of Gondor, b) Smaug and the Lonely Mountain, and c) his JRRT insignia

Prize 7: A set of 3 full-color stickers featuring a) "Even the smallest person can change the course of the future," b) a map of Middle-earth, and c) "The road goes ever on and on..." with a hobbit hole door

Prize 8: a used copy of The Hobbit Companion by David Day -- it is in very good used condition, but I did buy it used.

Prize 9: a used copy of The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien edited by Humphrey Carpenter, with the assistance of Christopher Tolkien -- it is in good used condition, with some slight wear to the corners and edges of the cover.  The spine is still nice, and the pages appear to be unmarked.

I purchased all of these prizes myself, for the purpose of this giveaway.  This is not affiliated with any person or business besides myself.  Must be 18 or older to enter, or have parent's permission to provide me with a mailing address to send the prize to.  No purchase necessary.  Void where prohibited.

This giveaway is open worldwide.   

The main way to gain entries is to participate in the party by contributing a post, such as your answers to the official tag or another Tolkien-related post.  Once you've written your post, be sure to add its link to the Mister Linky widget at the bottom of my kick-off post (which is also where you'll find the tag questions).  

But that isn't required!  You can also earn entries by doing other things like commenting, playing party games, and telling me your prize choices.  And you can even get an entry just for being interested.

I do my best to match winners with their choice of prizes, but that doesn't always work out -- that's why I ask for your top three choices. However, I cannot guarantee that you will win something you want/request.

Also, please be aware that mail delivery is still slow. I will ship all prizes via the USPS, and they do not ship to every country these days, so if you are one of my international friends, please check this official list to make sure your country is still receiving mail sent via the USPS.

This giveaway runs through the end of Friday, September 24. I will draw the winners on Saturday, September 25 and post the names of the winners on this blog, as well a notify them by email no later than Sunday, September 26.

PLEASE make sure your information for the giveaway widget includes your current email address so that if you win a prize, you'll get the email informing you that you won! If you don't reply to my email by Saturday, October 2, I will choose another winner and award the prize to them instead.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Mid-Year Book Freak-Out Tag (2021)

Yeah, yeah, it's the end of August, so we're past the true middle of the year, but whatever.  I saw this on Coffee, Classics, and Craziness, and again on I'm Charles Baker Harris (And I Can Read), and it looked fun, so I'm doing it too :-D  Because I haven't done a tag in like... months.  And I love tags.

I'm linking all titles to my own blog reviews when available.  All pictures are mine from my Instagram account.

Best book you’ve read so far in 2021:  This is very hard because I've read/reread some awesome books this year.  I'll just go with The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas because it was even more wonderful than I was remembering.  For the last couple hundred pages, I would pause reading at least once a chapter just to revel in how much I was loving it.  Which sometimes involved small bounces or squeals of joy, and other times involved hugging the book.  Or taking a deep breath.  Or just grinning a lot.

Best sequel you’ve read so far in 2021:  Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling, which is my favorite Harry Potter book.  Oh, my goodness, it is so delightful!

And, yes, a lot of the reason it's my favorite is because Sirius Black is my favorite character in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.  Unquestionably.

New release you haven’t read yet, but want to:  Ignite by Jenna Terese.  I had it in my sidebar here as "currently reading," but it wasn't quite the right book for me right now, so I've set it aside for a bit.  I hope to read it soon, though!  It's Christian indie fiction about superheroes!  I'm sure I will enjoy it when I'm in the right mood.

Most anticipated release for the second half of the year:  The London House by Katherine Reay!  I'm so excited to see what she does with historical fiction.

Biggest disappointment in 2021:  Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad.  At least it was short.

Biggest surprise in 2021:  Probably Caraval by Stephanie Garber, because YA fantasy is not my usual thing, but I inhaled that book in 2 days.  The sequels were good too, but didn't grab me as hard as that first one.  My goodness, it was such a delicious, dizzying ride!

Favorite new author in 2021:  Emily Hayse!  I absolutely adored These War-Torn Hands and want to read more of hers ASAP.  I'm eagerly anticipating the next book in this series, The Beautiful Ones, but I'm also interested in reading some of her previous books, even though they're not westerns :-o

Newest fictional crush/ship: For ship, it's Rue and Robbie in Wait Until Tomorrow by Jenni Sauer.  They were such a sweet, supportive, kind couple!

For crush, well, Declan in On These Black Sands by Vanessa Rasanen was awfully lunchable.  

Newest favorite character: Jack Selby in These War-Torn Hands by Emily Hayse.  My goodness, he was marvelous.  He made me cry, melt, cheer, sigh... all the things.  I can't wait to read more about him.

Book that made you cry in 2021: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling hit me a lot harder this time around than I was expecting.  Not just the death at the end, but so much of the growing-up stuff that Harry, Ron, and Hermione go through made me tear up a lot.

Book that made you happy in 2021: I reread Shane by Jack Schaefer while in Wyoming this summer, and it was glorious.  My goodness, that book gets better and better every time I reread it.  (And yes, I took this photo in Wyoming.)

Favorite book-to-film adaption you saw in 2021:  Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003) is probably my answer for "best book-to-movie adaptation" of all time.  I rewatched it this year for the first time in quite a while and it is still magnificent.  I'm considering starting to reread Patrick O'Brian's books once I finish the Harry Potter series.  

Favorite bookish post you’ve done so far in 2021: It's not a single post, but I really enjoyed leading the Sense and Sensibility read-along this past spring!  We had so many good discussions about the characters, storylines, Jane Austen's writing, the era it takes place -- good times :-)

Most beautiful book you bought so far in 2021:  My Seasons edition of Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.  It's almost too pretty to touch.  Good thing it came with a protective vinyl sleeve so I don't have to worry about ruining the paper dustjacket!

Books you need to read by the end of the year:  The last two Harry Potter books because I want to reread the whole series in one year :-)  I'm working on Order of the Phoenix right now, but I don't know that I'll finish it by the end of August.  I might, though!  We'll see.

How about you?  Have you had any spectacular reads this year?  Did you do this tag yourself already?  If so, leave a link in the comments so we can read it!

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

"The Count of Monte Cristo" by Alexandre Dumas

I haven't read the full text of this book since I was eleven.  Thirty years ago, I fell in love with Edmond Dantes, and this book has been in my top 3 ever since.  When I was a teen, I bought my own copy.  I reread it.  And I was a little confused because I remembered things about the story that seemed to be missing.  Like all this stuff about a baby in a box.  I finally decided I'd just confused The Count of Monte Cristo with some other book, and shrugged it off. 

It wasn't until a few years ago that I learned that many, many English translations significantly abridge this book.  And never bother to call themselves "abridged."  They cut out certain plotlines that the translators find distasteful or think modern audiences won't like... such as all that stuff about the baby in the box.  Well, once I learned that, I set out to find a good, reliable translation.  What I learned is that the Penguin edition pictured here, with a translation by Robin Buss, is considered the most accurate modern translation, so that's the version I've got now, and the one I read this summer.

I'm really not sure how they'd make a bunch of this work without the baby in the box, as that's kind of central to a big part of the plot, and I'm not surprised that I wondered where it went when I read that other version.  If you're scratching your head and saying, "I read this book, and there was no baby in a box," then you probably read a sneakily abridged version too.  I'm just sayin'.

Anyway, I read the real thing this time.  And I adored it all over again.  Yes, this book is 1200 pages.  It's a brick.  A chunkster.  A tome.  And I gobbled it right down.  For the last few hundred pages, I was so excited and happy I would put the book down and just bounce up and down with joy from how beautifully everything was slotting together.  My goodness, what a breathless ride.  

Quick summary of the plot in case you don't know it: Edmond Dantes is thrown into prison after being wrongly accused by a couple of men who are jealous of him.  He eventually escapes, becomes fabulously wealthy and sophisticated, and returns to France to wreck the men who wrecked his life, stole his fiancĂ©e, and starved his father.

I think two things set this apart from ordinary stories of revenge. First, I love how Dantes, as the Count of Monte Cristo, uses his enemies' own past crimes, as well as their pet sins, to ruin them.  He doesn't steal their fortunes or slander their names or steal their wives and sweethearts.  He just patiently brings their own long-buried secrets to light and lets them suffer the consequences of their own wrongdoing.  That's brilliant.

The other is that Dantes learns, eventually, that revenge can get away from the avenger and cause more harm than intended.  He discovers that, though he considers himself a tool of God for striking down wrongdoers, he is NOT God, and his strikes can cut too wide a path.  He also learns that revenge hollows you out, while helping others fills you up, and turns from one to the other at the end.

(Mine from my Instagram)

Particularly Good Bits:

"Happiness is like one of those palaces on an enchanted island, its gates guarded by dragons.  One must fight to gain it" (p. 42).

"Hatred is blind and anger deaf: the one who pours himself a cup of vengeance is likely to drink a bitter draught" (p. 385).

"There are two medicines for all ills: time and silence" (p. 523).

"I like everybody in the way that God ordered us to love our neighbours, that is, in Christian charity.  I only bestow true hatred on certain people" (p. 747).

"I do not think this is the moment to give way to sterile misery: that may be enough for those who want to suffer at their ease and have time to drink their own tears" (p. 786).

"He's a wonderful person for raising one's spirits, because he never asks questions: in my opinion, people who don't ask too many questions give the best consolation" (p. 938).

Moral wounds have the peculiarity that they are invisible, but do not close: always painful, always ready to bleed when touched, they remain tender and open in the heart (p. 952).

People were hanging on his every word, as is always the case with those who say little and never waste words (p. 1048).

So, do live and be happy, children dear to my heart, and never forget that, until the day when God deigns to unveil the future to mankind, all human wisdom is contained in these two words: 'wait' and 'hope'! (p. 1243)

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-16 for suggestive dialog, drug use (including a pretty racy drug-induced dream), some mild profanity, violence, and poisonings.

This has been my 26th book read and reviewed for my third Classics Club list.

Thursday, August 19, 2021

"On These Black Sands" by Vanessa Rasanen

This book is SUCH a fun time!  I was a little bit hesitant about it because I kept reading reviews that said "this book destroyed me," and I honestly am not particularly a fan of books that leave me feeling destroyed.  As you may have gathered from my recent rant about Summer by Edith Wharton.  However, happily, On These Black Sands did NOT destroy me.  It did leave me reeeeeeally wanting more, but I know Vanessa Rasanen is working on book two already, so I will be patient :-D  I am confident it will be worth it.

So.  This is about Aoife Cascade, heir to a ruling body of women who make all the rules for their island, rules that are enforced by pirates who work with them.  Their island is relentlessly peaceful, and all pirate visitors must remain peaceful while ashore.  This sounds like a wonderful place to live, but Aoife (pronounced EE-fuh -- it's a real Irish name) discovers inadvertently that there's a dark side to the island.  She somewhat reluctantly joins forces with Captain Declan McCallagh, a handsome pirate captain that my mind insisted be played by Errol Flynn, which I did not mind in the slightest.  Together, Aoife and Declan (and Declan's best buddy Tommy) start learning more secrets and uncovering plots and engaging in acts of derring-do now and then... and, obviously, romance also ensues between Aoife and one of the pirates, but I'm not going to spoil things and tell you who because I'm mean that way.

One of my favorite things about this book is how Aoife never quite knows what she should do.  She's an adult, but she's not great at things like quick decisions or understanding people, and that was very relatable for me.  Also, she suffers from panic attacks, and I was really interested in seeing how those can affect a person, and also how other characters respond to them in both good and bad ways.  I think it's important to help people like me, who haven't endured a panic attack, to understand how that feels and how to help cope with them.  And what doesn't help.

While there is some magic involved in the plot, it's really fairly minimal, though I expect things will get more magical in book two.  So while this is technically pirate-fantasy, it's heavy on the pirate and light on the fantasy.

(Mine from Instagram)

Particularly Good Bits:

He cursed silently at the memories that dared to defy him, swimming to the surface without permission (p. 27).

He was right.  Of course he was right, but there was a difference between knowing something logically and actually believing it (p. 252).

Was this what love felt like?  A confusing yet thrilling, tangled web of emotions and sensations? (p. 354).

Creeping ivy obscured the gray stone walls, covering the windows and stretching out like spindly fingers eager to squeeze the life out of anyone who entered (p. 360).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 for a lot of innuendo and suggestive dialog (no love scenes), intermittent cussing (no F-bombs), and pirate violence (nothing graphic).

(Also mine from my Instagram)

This has been my 38th book read off my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2021.