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.