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.

Thursday, August 12, 2021

"The Alpine Path" by Lucy Maud Montgomery

This was a fun little book.  It's kind of a memoir of Montgomery's writing journey up to 1917, when she wrote it.  Originally, these memories were published in several installments in Everywoman's World, and later collected into one slim volume.

This was a fairly enlightening read, if only because it shows you how Montgomery wanted her life and her work to be viewed.  I have read enough about her actual history to know that her childhood was not a particularly happy one, and I got the impression that she cherry-picked some good and funny memories for this so she didn't need to delve into a more morose reality.  I was actually surprised with how much of the book revolved around her childhood, but she's trying to trace how her life informed her writing, so it does make sense.  

Obviously, since she wrote this in 1917, it doesn't include her memories of writing all her books, since she was in the midst of her career.  Still, this was an enjoyable read, filled with lovely passages in her distinctive style.  There's a section that's all about her memories of a trip to Scotland with her husband which made me laugh several times, though I'm not sure what it had to do with her writing, actually.

Particularly Good Bits:

I had, in my vivid imagination, a passport to the geography of Fairland.  In a twinkling I could -- and did -- whisk myself into regions of wonderful adventures, unhampered by any restrictions of time or place (p. 30). those glorious days my imagination refused to be hampered by facts (p. 34).

I have always hated beginning a story.  When I get the first paragraph written I feel as though it were half done.  The rest comes easily (p. 46).  (I'm the same way, so that was a neat kinship to discover!)

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: G.  Rosy and sweet.

This has been my 25th book read and reviewed for my third Classics Club list, and my 37th for #TheUnreadShelfProject2021.  I'm halfway to my CC goal, and I hit my original goal of 36 books off my TBR shelves for #TUSP2021, so I'm upping that to 48 now :-o

Saturday, August 7, 2021

"Summer" by Edith Wharton

I don't think I'm going to be an Edith Wharton fan.  In fact, after reading Summer, I took two more of her novels off my TBR shelves and put them in the sell-to-the-used-bookstore box in the basement.  Between reading this book and Ethan Frome, and reading a pretty detailed synopsis of both The Age of Innocence and House of Mirth, I have discovered that she really liked to write books about characters in bleak situations with no hope of a good outcome for their lives, with all their options being bad or miserable or wrong.  And you know what?  I Do Not Like Books Like That.  Like Of Mice and Men by Steinbeck.  No.  It's just cruel to create vibrant, believable characters and then torture them.

In Summer, a young woman from a very small New England town wishes she could leave her narrow existence for something more meaningful.  She was taken in by a lawyer and his wife when she was a child, but never actually adopted by them.  Now she works as the librarian at the library no one in town is interested in, caring for books she doesn't even want to read herself.  Then a young man arrives in town, an architect who wants to spend the summer drawing old and interesting houses in the area.  His aunt lives there, so he's staying with her.  

Obviously, Charity Royall and Lucius Harney get together.  And fall a bit in love.  And things go wrong.  And keep going wrong.  And go more wrong.  And then go wronger still.  And by the end of the book (this is TOTAL SPOILAGE), Charity is pregnant with Lucius Harney's baby, he's married to someone else, and she has basically been forced into marrying the weird and often icky old lawyer who raised her.  


And worse that simply being a miserable book about miserable things happening to make miserable people even more miserable is the fact that this book actually made me anxious and depressed while I was reading it!  This is not why I read books.  I do not read them so that I can feel worse about the world around me, or to have myself made unhappy.  

You know that saying, "If mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy?"  I take that seriously.  I work hard at remaining contented, happy, and upbeat because my mood and behavior directly and deeply affects three young people and one medium-aged man.  They do not need me to walk around sinking under a cloud of gloom caused by fictional characters being treated badly by their author.  So, no more Wharton for me.

However, I do want to mention that I really liked the copy that I read -- it's a beautifully illustrated edition from Sweet Sequels.  She has lots of books available, including several that are out of print elsewhere.  I love the feel of her covers -- very smooth and tactile-ly pleasing.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-16 for oblique discussions of abortion and more direct discussions of unwed pregnancy.  Charity does not have an abortion, but she knows a girl who did, and visits a doctor who performs them.

This has been my 24th book read and reviewed for my third Classics Club list and my 36th read from my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2021

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

"The Young Man and the Sea" by Rodman Philbrick

Did I pick this up off the shelf at the library in the Junior Fiction section solely because the title is a nod to Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea?  Yes, yes, I did.  And then I read the whole thing in one sitting and enjoyed myself thoroughly!

While this does eventually retell Hemingway's story in a way, the first half of the book is totally different. Twelve-year-old Skiff's mother died recently, and his father is sunk deep into depression because of that.  Skiff tries to figure out a way to rouse his father out of his apathy, and he thinks maybe raising his father's sunken fishing boat will do the trick.  With the help of several old men, the young man does raise the boat and fix a hole in its bottom.

The boat needs a new engine, though, so Skiff sets about trapping lobster to earn the money that will cost.  But that doesn't work out the way he expects, so he decides to go out and catch himself a bluefin tuna, the biggest fish in the waters off Maine.  And that's when he begins his own one-on-one battle with a fish that closely parallels Hemingway's masterpiece... but with a much different ending.  I had tears in my eyes by the end of this book, it was so good.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for some juvenile humor and a youngster in danger.

Monday, August 2, 2021

Announcing the 9th Annual Tolkien Blog Party

Good morning, lovely friends!  Can you believe it's time to start gearing up for the NINTH Tolkien Blog Party?  Oh my goodness, that number is just so exciting!  Nine is an important number in The Lord of the Rings, after all, what with the nine companions making up the Fellowship and so on.

Tolkien Week this year is September 19-25, so that's when I'll be holding my party.  For a whole week, we will celebrate all things Tolkien together!

Like last year, there will be many, many options for you to participate.  Yes, I will provide an official tag to fill out, some games to play, and a giveaway (I'm aiming for nine prizes...).  But you will get to contribute any kind of Tolkien-related post you so desire!

There's no sign-up sheet and no limit on how many posts you can contribute.  The only rules are that they must be family-friendly posts, and they must be NEW posts.  No fair linking to some book or movie review you wrote years ago.

Your posts don't have to involve Middle-earth, even though all my buttons do.  If you want to review Roverandom or Letters from Father Christmas or Tolkien's translation of Beowulf, for example, that is heartily welcomed!  If you want to review a biography of Tolkien, be it book or movie, that's totally cool.  Most of my games and so on will revolve around Middle-earth, but anything Tolkien-related is fair game for your contributions.

Please share a button or two on your own blog to let people know about the party.  They just might be my favorite blog party buttons I've ever made, to be honest.  I have such a thing for silhouettes.

If you want to comment here voicing your enthusiasm, asking questions, or just bouncing around ideas for what you want to post about, I am here for that!

Sunday, August 1, 2021

"These War-Torn Hands" by Emily Hayse

In some ways, I loved this book.  The sweeping visuals of vast open spaces and untamed horizons were glorious.  I loved one character and became exceedingly fond of several others.  The whole idea of retelling the King Arthur legends as fantasy-westerns is very, very compelling to me.  I loved the wild west vibes, and the addition of some magical elements was really nifty, but not overpowering.

My favorite character -- and this will not surprise anyone once I explain what he's like -- was Jack Selby.  He's quiet, soft-spoken, even shy.  He's very, very watchful and aware of his surroundings.  He's wildly skilled at tracking and shooting.  And most of the people in the town of Glory Mesa don't trust him because he used to ride with the Bad Guys.  Yeah, no idea why I'd fall for him.  Not at all the sort of fellow to attract me.  I never go for the quiet, valiant guys who throw themselves deliberately into harm's way to rescue other people or stop Bad Stuff from happening.  Never.  Lol.

I also really liked Raymond Lacey, older brother of the book's heroine.  He's a big, stalwart, reliable guy.  Same for Jesse Thatcher, who was probably my third favorite.  Any time any of those three were on the page, I was pretty well enthralled.  Toss in Kate Carnegie, the enigmatic bartender with a mysterious past, and Doctor Sikes, who holds more power than any old codger could be expected to wield, and you've got my top five right there.

The trouble is, none of those are the main character.  The main character is Rosamund Lacey, determined young woman coming west to marry Archer Scott, governor of the Territory.  And while I could admire her courage and honesty and love for Archer... I never really felt like I would like hanging out with her.  Which is a Me Thing and probably won't bother anyone else at all.

I had kind of a hard time getting through the middle of the book, for two reasons.  First, the whole thing changes POV characters every few pages.  And it took a long time to get to know the six POV characters well enough that I didn't have to keep flipping back to the list of characters at the front to remember who was talking now.  That kept yanking me out of the story, which was annoying.

Also, this is a TENSE book.  Very, very tense in many places.  So tense that I would start to stress out about the story and set it down to get some distance from it.  Most books don't do that to me, at least, not the ones I tend to read.  I don't enjoy books that stress me out, to put it simply.  This will not be a problem when I reread this book, as I'll know how it ends and not have to wonder about who will live and who will die, and so on.  

Yes, I liked this enough to want to read it again, later when more of the books have come out.  Maybe once the series is complete.  I'm keeping it on my shelf, because I did enjoy it, even if it took me longer to read than I had anticipated.  I'm very interested to see how more of the Arthur legends play out with these characters, and I very sincerely and eagerly hope that Jack Selby will get plenty of page time in book two, which I believe will be released this fall already.

(Mine from my Instagram)

Particularly Good Bits:

He's not one to look for trouble, but when it finds him, it regrets showing up (p. 21).

We get braver the closer to death we get (p. 177).

Sometimes men hold onto their dreams so tight the dream begins to smother them (p. 215-216).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for western violence and some scary moments involving dragon-like monsters.

This was my 35th book read off my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2021.