Friday, November 26, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

Particularly Good Bits:

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 21, 2021

"The Tall Stranger" by Louis L'Amour

Well, boy howdy.

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 13, 2021

"Castle Shade" by Laurie R. King

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

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

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

Particularly Good Bits:

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

"The Goblin and the Dancer" by Allison Tebo

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

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

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

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

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

Particularly Good Bits:

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 6, 2021

The Give Thanks for Books Tag

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

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

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

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

The Tag:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Tag:

Play if you want to!

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 1, 2021

"Hallowe'en Party" by Agatha Christie

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

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

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

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

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

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