Friday, May 20, 2022

"The London House" by Katherine Reay

This was a difficult book, in some ways.  It contains two unhappy stories intertwined with each other, and I worried for a long time that at least one of them would not be resolved happily.  But I trusted Reay to at least deliver a satisfying ending, even if it was not exactly "happy," and I did not trust in vain.

In the present day, Caroline Payne is contacted by an old college friend, Mat Hammond, who has written an article about her grandmother and great-aunt and their family history during World War II.  Caroline is hurt and angered by the article, and convinced it's not entirely accurate.  Her relationship with her parents is distant, bordering on estranged, but her brother convinces her to go to their home in London and learn more from her mother there.

Caroline convinces Mat to postpone publishing the article until she can learn the truth, and off she goes to learn the real story about her grandmother and her twin sister, who may or may not have run away with a Nazi during the early days of WWII.  

Through diaries and letters, Caroline learns a startling truth about her family history -- a truth that even her grandmother and grandfather didn't really understand.  Along the way, she helps her family heal and begin to grow closer again.  Also, she and Mat tentatively consider resuming the relationship they'd let dissolve back during college.

By the end, everyone is in a much healthier and happier place, but boy, was most of this book rough!  

I'm sorry to see that Katherine Reay has continued to move away from writing explicitly Christian fiction, though.  You can't even call The London House faith-based fiction -- it's simply clean and wholesome, and that's all.  Which is not bad, but not as awesome as I think it could have been.  She talks about absolute truth existing, outside of people's perceptions and decisions and whims, but she never leads the discussion to where that absolute truth comes from.  The closest she gets is quoting C. S. Lewis a bit.  What a missed opportunity.

Particularly Good Bits:

I realized Jason and I shared something in common--we needed people in our lives with vibrancy and color, perhaps because we had somehow and somewhere lost our own (p. 44).

"When something bad happens," she continued, "it's easy to blame someone else, and in some cases maybe it is their fault, but that doesn't matter.  Not in the end.  What does matter is how long we hold on to that hurt or that anger.  We can magnify the pain, making it worse and worse until it devours us, or we can forgive it and get on with life" (p. 137).

I wondered how much my dad had missed, how much I had missed, by focusing on what was absent rather than what was in front of us (p. 152).

I need to forgive Mother and Father for not being who I needed them to be.  That sounds self-absorbed and patronizing as well, but I don't mean it that way.  I simply mean they strive to be the best parents they can--I see that now--and simply because it's not what I wanted does not mean their efforts aren't right and true (p. 236).

It is wrong to believe my perception is the only reality, and a true one at that.  There are absolute truths in this world, Margo, and I am slowly learning I do not determine them (p. 236).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 for wartime violence and discussion of an unmarried couple spending the night together (not shown, only discussed).

This has been my 20th book read off my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2022.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

"Hocus" by Jan Burke

Well, that was extremely tense and thrilling.  Wow.  You know, I don't think I realized quite how attached I've become to Frank Harriman, police detective husband of Irene Kelly, until this book.  Maybe Irene hadn't either. 

I think this is the fastest I've read one of these books, and even though I knew (because I've read one later book in the series before) that Frank was going to come through this book alive, I was frantic to get him rescued.  I couldn't read fast enough.

You see, Frank Harriman gets abducted by two unhinged dudes who have a past history with him, a history that involves a brutal double homicide and hostage situation.  Frank was the hero of that first incident, but he's the victim this time around, and... you know how I get all protective of fictional characters I love?  MAN, I wanted so much to jump into this book and protect Frank.

Yeah.  Anyway, Irene Kelly continues to be a delight to hang out with.  I love that she never does stupid things like run heedlessly into what she knows will be a dangerous situation, or go off chasing someone without letting other people know where she's going.  Yes, she runs toward danger at times, but she knows that she's doing so, and she calls for backup and help consistently.  I appreciate that a lot.

Particularly Good Bits:

Wrigley and I have a strained relationship in the best of times, and between two and three in the morning is never going to rank as one of the best of times (p. 45).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: R for some brutal violence, abduction of children, bad language, and hints of sexual conduct between married people.  It's not particularly icky in any way, but it's not suitable for children, either.

This has been my 19th book read off my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2022.

Friday, May 13, 2022

"Rook di Goo" by Jenni Sauer

As much as I loved Rook di Goo the first time I read it... I loved it even more this second time through.  The first time, it was my introduction to Jenni Sauer.  Now, I've read three more of her books.  The first time, I didn't know if I could trust her to give me a happy ending.  This time, I had the joy of already knowing the ending, and being able to trace how she set it up.  The first time, I didn't know I would become an actual Gibbs fan when I read Yesterday or Long Ago, and I found him kind of meh in this one; this time, I found him endearing.

Although A Little Beside You remains my favorite Sauer book, this one really is a close second.  El's journey from disillusioned military deserter to fierce and loyal team member is just... beautiful.  It is.  The fact that this is also a Cinderella retelling is secondary for me, because El's story is so much more interesting than that.  Yes, the Cinderella elements are there, but they're... not the point, you know?

The point is that broken people have worth and purpose.  That hurting people can find healing.  Joy and friendship and love are not reserved for the whole and healthy.  And I LOVE that message.  Fiercely.  It's exactly what God offers to us when he says, "Come to Me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest."  And when the Isaiah says, "A bruised reed, He will not break, and a smoldering wick, He will not extinguish."  And the Psalmist, when he says, "A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise."  There's so much depth of truth to this book, bearing out Biblical truths even though it's set in an imaginary sci-fi world and the words 'God' and 'Bible' and 'Jesus' don't appear.

Anyway, totally love this book. So much.

Particularly Good Bits:

Cyrene was advertised as a melting pot, but most knew it to be a dumping ground (p. 2).

"Ginger says I have an eye for seeing lost things, and I guess you could say that's true" (p. 73).

She would die down here, suffocating in her own cowardice because she was too afraid of standing up for what was right and facing the consequences.  And the worst part was she wasn't sure which fate was worse (p. 130).

Tulle and lace, wrapping every woman in the room up like a package (p. 217).

Hadn't her ancestors been willing to die for what was right?  Hadn't they thought fighting oppression more important than preserving their own lives?  Hadn't they laid down their lives for truth and justice to prevail?  Revolutions weren't fought by people who played it safe (p. 345).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 for violence and trauma regarding remembered  acts of war.  No cussing, no smut, no other questionable content.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

"The Silent Gondoliers" by William Goldman

I'm vexed with myself that it's taken me this long to read this book.  Because it is an absolute gem.  It's a tall tale told by a master satirist.  It sparkles, it swoops, it shines in all the right places.  I read the whole thing in one sitting, chuckling with glee over and over.  Well, silently chuckling because I was at my daughter's gymnastics lesson and I didn't want to distract the gymnasts.  Probably some of the other parents thought I was having quiet little coughing fits or something.  But I wasn't, I was laughing and laughing.  

And then?  The very last line brought tears to my eyes.

It's all about a young man named Luigi who is the finest gondolier in all of Venice.  But poor Luigi has a terrible secret.  He also has one great dream -- the one thing he wants with all his heart.  And he can never have it, because of his secret.  But then comes a fateful day when only Luigi can save everything he holds dear, and in the process, he might just get a chance to live out his dream.

Particularly Good Bits:

I'm old now, or at least that's what my eyes tell me when they greet my face in the morning mirror.

Quietly, George of the Gritti replied: "We are gondoliers and we make our own decisions; explanations are not a part of our vocabulary."

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for a few mild cuss words.

This has been my 18th book read off my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2022.  I'm halfway to my goal of 36!  This certainly does bode well.

Saturday, May 7, 2022

"Vera" by Elizabeth von Arnim

Well, that was... foreboding and dark and oddly mesmerizing.

Honestly, if von Arnim wasn't such a ridiculously good writer, I would not have finished this book.  It's very squirm-inducing, in that you KNOW the main character is making a terrible mistake, and you feel so helpless because you can't stop her.  Or at least, I did.

Vera is about a barely-of-age young woman, Lucy, whose father dies, leaving her protectorless for a few days.  Into this void steps Everard Wemyss, a capable and confident man who comforts Lucy and plans her father's funeral for her and generally takes charge of her affairs, all only a couple of weeks after his wife Vera has died in a fairly awful accident.

Everard gradually takes over Lucy's whole life, convincing her to marry him after only a few months.  It's not until after they're married that Lucy starts to see that Everard's complete control over every situation extends to complete control over her.  He insists on being obeyed, agreed with, coddled, and kowtowed to.  In fact, he is basically a two-year-old in a man's body, one that gets insidiously cruel when annoyed or irritated or contradicted.  

It's a chilling portrait of a casual sociopath who doesn't even realize what a monster his is, and who utterly hoodwinks most people into thinking he is an ordinary, even worthy, member of society.  Mostly because he believes himself that that's what he is.  Lucy realizes too late that Vera's death may not have been the accident Everard says it was, as she starts to understand what Vera's life must have been like, married to Everard for fifteen years.

I've read two really interesting things about this book that made me want to finish it even though it's a terribly unhappy book and I didn't like any of the characters.  (Not even Lucy, though I pitied her a lot.)  First, I read that von Arnim based this on her own deeply messed up second marriage to a similar man.  And, second, I read that this probably was an inspiration for Daphne du Maurier when she was coming up with Rebecca.  I can definitely see how this could have inspired du Maurier -- you can practically hear her reading it and saying, "Well, what if the husband was like this instead?  What if the second wife was like that?  What if the first wife was this kind of woman?"  That was quite fascinating to me, as a writer.

I expect it really would be very effective as a lesson on "what kind of person not to marry."  Or on "what kind of person not to become."  And I did have a lot of fun after I finished it by inventing a what-happens-next for it.  I gave Everard an unpleasant and well-deserved death, freeing Lucy to gradually recover from how shriveled and piteous she'd become.  That was a good time.

But I will never read this unhappy book again.

Particularly Good Bits:

You couldn't passionately protect Vera.  She was always in another room (p. 99).

The books people read -- was there ever anything more revealing? (p. 247)

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 for a few mild cuss words and a lot of creepy behavior.

This is my 40th book read for my third Classics Club list, and my 17th book read from my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2022.

Monday, May 2, 2022

Always Looking for More Book Recommendations?

If you're always hunting for the next book you want to read, or if you like getting recommendations for several books on the same subject or in the same genre, you probably should check out the book recommendation website  It's a newer website that has oodles and oodles of lists, most of them featuring of five books around a subject that an author is knowledgeable about or a fan of themselves.

Yes, these are lists provided by authors, of books that they are recommending to you!

Just today, they've added a list of "The best books about women in the wild west" that was contributed by ME!  You can read it right here.  You know I'm always learning more and more about the Old West, and I especially enjoy finding out about life for women in that time and place.  This list has the five books I think best explore that topic.

What other kinds of lists can you find at  Well, my friend Vanessa Rasanen made a list of "The best books with characters you'd want in your crew."  Rachel MacMillan made a list of "The best novels set in Vienna that will create a lifelong love for the city."  Roseanna M. White made a list of "The best books about British Intelligence in WWI."  

SO many topics, so many cool lists to read!  So many books to discover!

"The Continental Op" by Dashiell Hammett

This was an enjoyable collection of short stories featuring Hammett's never-named detective, or operative, who works for the Continental Detective Agency.  Hammett himself was a Pinkerton Agent, and I have always assumed that he based the way the Continental folks work on how the Pinkertons worked, which is a lot of fun.  Cuz the Pinkertons kind of fascinate me.  

Anyway, I didn't particularly love any of the seven stories in this, but I had a great time reading them.  My favorites were:

  • "The Golden Horseshoe," in which the Op sets out to find a runaway husband and uncovers a pretty sinister extortion plot.

  • "The House in Turk Street," in which the Op starts looking for one guy and ends up in the middle of a big mystery concerning a totally different guy.

  • "The Whosis Kid," in which the Op follows a hunch and cracks open a gang of thieves.

  • "The Farewell Murder," in which the Op gets hired to prevent a murder, and does, but not the murder he was hired to prevent.

I found it interesting that the Op tended to follow hunches and let events play out around him, not taking an active role until toward the end of the story most of the time.  It was almost like he was as much an observer as the readers, which is a unique way to handle a detective story, especially a hardboiled one.

I also liked that you get to see the Op working with other Continental operatives as part of an organization.  It's really different from the usual lone private investigator so many hardboiled mysteries feature.

Particularly Good Bits:

It would have taken good shooting to plug me at that instant.  I was bouncing around in my seat like a pellet of quicksilver in a nervous man's palm ("The Golden Horseshoe," p. 84)

According to the best dramatic rules, these folks should have made sarcastic speeches to me before they left, but they didn't.  They passed me without even a farewell look ("The House on Turk Street," p. 107).

I'm at that middle point around forty where a man puts other feminine qualities -- amiability, for one -- above beauty on his list ("The Whosis Kid," p. 205).

"Always in a hurry when we're quitting for the day," Begg said, his freckles climbing up his face to make room for his grin ("The Main Death," p. 241).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 for some bad language, quite a bit of violence, and veiled innuendo here and there.

This is the 16th book I've read from my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2022.

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

"Lost in a Good Book" by Jasper Fforde

After rereading The Eyre Affair last month, I simply had to continue with the series.  These books are so much nerdy, bookish, readerly fun!  I must admit I haven't laughed aloud as much over them as I did when I first read them, years and years ago, but that's okay.  I still love them.   And I did laugh now and then.

Thursday Next has a lot on her plate in this one.  Her dad's being hunted, her husband's in danger, her boss keeps yelling at her, her aunt and uncle disappear on purpose, and she discovers she has a major life change on the way.  Also, Goliath Corp. decides to blackmail her.  And then she gets apprenticed to Miss Havisham.  And has to stop the world from ending.

I can't even begin to make this book make sense in a review.  I promise it makes a kind of cool and surreal sense while you read it, okay?  The ending has a cliffhanger, so I'm really going to have to reread the next book, The Well of Lost Plots.  And then I expect I'll reread Something Rotten too, because it's got lots of Hamlet in it :-D

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-16 for some quite bad language, some innuendo and suggestive dialog, bits of violence here and there -- the bad language isn't pervasive, but I still wouldn't let a young teen read it.

"Kidnapped" by Robert Louis Stevenson

I love this book.  I loved it as a teen, I loved it in my twenties, and I love it now.  And, my goodness, is it ever fun to read aloud!

When David Balfour's father dies, he sets out to find his uncle, whom he has never met.  His uncle Ebenezer turns out to be a horrible miser, unkind and unfriendly, even hateful.  He has David kidnapped and shipped off to a slave colony in the Carolinas, but the ship never leaves Scottish waters.  A Highland gentleman, Alan Breck Stewart, befriends and rescues David, and the two run around Scotland having adventures and trying to make their way back to the lowlands.  Alan Breck then helps David Balfour acquire his rightful inheritance, but they have to part ways, which always makes me sad.  Still, it's such a jolly adventure.  And I do love Alan Breck.  My goodness, he's such a splendid character.  So fierce and loyal!  Not that I don't love David Balfour too, because I do, but my heart really belongs to Alan Breck in this book.

In fact, I discovered that there's this little phrase I'm fond of saying that I totally got from this book as a teen, and then forgot over the years where I had gotten it.  When Alan Breck kind of remembers something, but doesn't want to swear to it, or if he doesn't want people to know he knows something for sure, he'll say "it sticks in my mind that..."  I say that fairly often!  And now I know where I got it from!

Now that I've finished reading this aloud to my kids, we're going to have to watch the classic Disney movie version.  It's not on Disney+ because of course not, but I do have it on DVD, so yay!

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for gunplay, swordplay, shipwreck, and other bits of violence.

This has been my 39th book read and reviewed for my third Classics Club list.

Monday, April 25, 2022

"Fluff with a Side of Treason, Vol. 1" by Jenni Sauer

I love the way Sauer describes her stories in this collection, as fanfiction for her Evraft books.  Yes, fanfiction.  Even though they're written by the author.  She does not intend for these stories to be taken as canon, but just to be fun stories using familiar characters where she can explore whatever themes interest her.  Such a fun concept!

I actually loved all the stories -- not a single dud here!  Still, these were my particular favorites:

+ "First Date" -- I loved seeing Will Garrick and his future adopted daughter Rinity meet, and I love how kind he is to her and her mom right from the start.

+ "Happy Cavarden, Gibbs" -- This is basically a Christmas story, and anything with gift-giving and wishes granted is almost guaranteed to make me happy.

+ "Wedding Night" -- A fluffy and snuggly story with lots of surprises and upended expectations.  So sweet!

+ "Glitter" -- It's a completely improbable little story, and yet it totally works!  

Yup, this little collection enchanted me.  AND it made me realize I need to reread Rook di Goo, so I think I'll be diving back into that book soon!

Particularly Good Bits:

"Who... doesn't want ice cream?  It's a universal food.  There's never a time when a sane person doesn't want ice cream.  What's wrong with you?" ("Bad Day," p. 59).

"Which one of you is responsible?"

Trapp snorted.  "Us?  Responsible?  How can you ask that with a straight face?  I've never been responsible a day in my life" ("Trapp Jr.," p. 97).

She wasn't afraid because she didn't have to do it all alone anymore.  For the first time in her life, she had people who were worth living for ("Captured," p. 138).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 -- there's no bad language or smut, but some of the stories do contain violence or memories of violence, and there are some other things that readers probably need a bit of maturity to handle, like talk about a miscarriage.

This is my 15th book read from my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2022.

Friday, April 22, 2022

"The Vanderbeekers to the Rescue" by Karina Yan Glaser

This series is quickly becoming an all-time favorite for me.  In this one, their mom is danger of losing her at-home baking business, so the kids try everything they can think of to help her keep it.  But someone keeps leaving animals on their doorstep in the middle of the night -- a box of kittens, two guinea pigs, a dog, and more.  How can they find new homes for all these critters while also helping their mom pass her kitchen inspection?

I really love how these kids and their parents interact.  They all clearly love each other and are trying to help and respect each other, but they're also all sinful human beings who make mistakes, get upset, lose their patience, and so on.  No one is too perfect, but no one is stupid or mean or neglectful either.

Yes, the kids keep a big secret from their parents in this one.  Yes, that causes a lot of problems.  Yes, there are consequences.  No one laughs this off, no one decides it doesn't matter after all, and no one pooh-poohs the fact that they should have been honest and forthright. That's a really unusual thing to find in a book for kids, especially a more modern one, and I find it very refreshing.

Particularly Good Bits:

The brownstone murmured its welcome-to-my-stairs noises--gentle creaks and sighs--as she ascended (p. 44).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: G.  Good, clean, wholesome, and heartwarming.

This has been the 14th book I've read from my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2022.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Announcing the Outlaw Street Team!

I'm starting a street team for my Once Upon a Western series!

What's a street team, you ask?  Basically, it's a way for fans of my Once Upon a Western (OUAW) series to interact with me, help promote the series, and get some fun goodies.

Outlaws will get first dibs on advance reader copies (ARCs) of my books.  They'll see my book and short story covers before anyone else.  They'll get to chat with me and the rest of the team in a private Google Hangouts group.  AND they'll get a small welcome package with a couple goodies and a handwritten note from me.

Outlaws will be expected to share news about OUAW books and short stories via their social media. This may include, but not necessarily be limited to, book cover reveals, release date announcements, online book tours, and any related shindigs. Outlaws will be expected to participate in these on whatever platforms they already use, such a blogs, Instagram, Facebook, MeWe, Twitter, etc.  It's not necessary to have accounts on every social media platform ever, but it IS required to have at least one such way to spread news.

In other words, this street team will be a dedicated core group of people who know they want to share news about OUAW books and short stories with their friends, starting now and proceeding on into the future.

People will still have the opportunity to participate in reveals and online tours, and request ARCs, without being a part of this group, if they would rather not sign on for all of those. But ONLY Outlaw members will receive the perks such as Outlaw goodies, group chats, and early dibs on ARC copies.

This street team is open to anyone in the world who loves the Once Upon a Western book series! Be aware that if you live outside the US, your welcome package and any other goodies I send your way from time to time may take quite a while to get to you. Shipping internationally gets that way, you know.

If all this sounds like fun to you, and you're able to fulfill the aforementioned responsibilities, then follow this link or click on the button below to apply to join the team!

Monday, April 18, 2022

"Remember Me, Irene" by Jan Burke

Ooooooh, this was far and away the best Irene Kelly book yet!  Also, it's the first one I've read this year that was not a reread, so that added some extra zing, I suppose.  Though, to be honest, I haven't remembered loads about the first three either, since it had been so long since I'd read them the first time.

Remember Me, Irene kicks off with a homeless man at a bus stop recognizing Irene Kelly.  Not so shocking, as she's a pretty well-known reporter in Las Piernas, CA, and her picture has been in the paper more than a few times.  But he insists he knew her long ago, though he won't tell her his name.  It's not until later that Irene learns who he is now (Lucas Monroe, alcoholic) and who he used to be (a college instructor who taught Irene years ago).

This one little thread begins to unravel a huge, hidden conspiracy involving architecture, contractors, local politics, and several murders.  It was really, really tangled, and I loved every minute.  Especially the parts that took place in an abandoned hotel called the Angelus.  First, I am fascinated by abandoned buildings, and second, it sounded like a place they would use as a setting for some random ep of Angel (1999-2004).  I loved imagining wandering around in it.

Also, I love that Irene and Frank are a happily married couple.  They are both such strong-minded, stubborn, loyal, wonderful characters who insist on standing by each other through anything, but who also don't always get along at every minute of the day. 

Particularly Good Bits:

     Holding me in bed that night, Frank was warm and solid, his simple act of affection as important to me as the beating of my own heart against his hand.  "I like being married," I whispered, thinking he was asleep.
     "Me, too," he murmured against my ear (p. 220).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: R for a long of very strong language, some messy crime scenes, a suicide, and quite a bit of innuendo (but no open-door love scenes).

This is my 13th book read off my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2022.

Friday, April 15, 2022

"Twice Freed" by Patricia St. John

I can't believe I'd never read this book before!  I feel like I read something else by Patricia St. John, as her style felt extremely familiar -- I'm betting my childhood best friend loaned me one of her other books, as this was exactly the sort of sweet Biblical fiction her family was so good at finding.  My friend Eva gave me a copy for Christmas because she knew I love the story of Onesimus and Philemon in the Bible; she knows this because the character Ness in my book One Bad Apple is actually named Onesimus, and I have his adoptive father Wallace actually quote a bit of Philemon in my book.

Anyway.  THIS book weaves a fictional story around the slave Onesimus, his master Philemon, and the apostle Paul.  It is crammed with wonderful historical details about live in the Roman Empire for slaves and free, for Christians and Jews and nonbelievers.  I just ate all that historicity up with a spoon, I tell you.  

St. John portrays Onesimus as a proud and stubborn boy who grows slowly into a proud and stubborn man.  He eventually runs away from his master, Philemon, and ends up in Rome with Paul kind of by accident -- or at least, Onesimus doesn't get there on purpose, but you can see God's hand guiding his journey all the way.  Onesimus has been resistant to this new Christian religion that his master, his mother, and so many around him convert to, but when he sees how Paul bears his own bondage and chains, he can't ignore the power of Christ to give even the most humble and downtrodden person hope and peace.

While this book doesn't shy away from the cruel reality of slavery, it doesn't fixate on that either, but treats it in what I feel is age-appropriate for its middle-grade audience.  I'll definitely be encouraging my kids to read Twice Freed, and possibly even incorporating it into our world history curriculum.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for discussions of beatings, brandings, an earthquake, and other harsh realities, all of which are presented in a straight-forward, non-sensationalist way.

This has been the 11th book I've read from my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2022.

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

"Bridge to Trouble" by Elisabeth Grace Foley

What a galloping good time this novella is!  I read the whole thing in one sitting, not only because it's pretty short, but also because it just pulled me right in and I couldn't wait to find out how everything turned out!

Jeanette Pierpont flees home to her family's land in Montana to nurse some wounded feelings after a social embarrassment.  There, she gradually uncovers a sinister plot with the help of a new friend she's not entirely sure she should trust.  But if she doesn't trust him, who can she turn to?  

I very much liked Jeanette, but I liked her new friend even more.  He was just the sort of solid leading man I tend to like, with a hint of mystery in his past, but no question about where his interest lies now.

Like Foley's last full-length novel Land of Hills and Valleys, this takes place in the early 20th century in the west, not in the cowboy age.  While that's not my favorite timeframe for a western, Foley makes it work really well.

Particularly Good Bits:

Perhaps solitude was safer, but it wasn't half as interesting (p. 130).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for some scenes of peril and danger and general skullduggery.  No cussing, minimal violence, no smut.

This has been the 10th book I've read from my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2022.

Friday, April 8, 2022

"The Prisoner of Zenda" by Anthony Hope

Well, this was a jolly romp of a tale!  Kind of a grown-up version of The Prince and the Pauper, in a way, but with the switch of commoner and royalty being deliberate and done for an actual reason.

Rudolf Rassendyll, a wealthy young man idly wasting his life at gentlemanly nonsense, goes to visit distant relatives in the middle-European (and fictional) country of Ruritania.  There, he meets another Rudolf, his distant cousin who is about to be crowned king.  After a night of drunken revelry, the almost-king is unable to attend his coronation.  His advisors press Rassendyll to take his place so as to avoid scandal and to thwart the new king's brother, who is scheming to take over the country.

You can guess what happens next, right?  It's rather like the movie Dave (1993) -- Rudolf Rassendyll has to keep on pretending to be the new king because the actual king gets kidnapped by his rotten brother and held prisoner in the Castle Zenda.  

Love and intrigue ensue, as the fake king must keep up the pretense of wooing the beautiful Princess Flavia so the real king will be able to marry her eventually.  Fist fights and sword fights and daring rescue attempts also ensue, and it all ends happily for almost everyone.  

Now I want to see the 1937 Ronald Colman movie version because the front cover of my copy is a picture from it :-D

Is this a weighty and thought-provoking book?  Nope.  It is, as I said, a jolly romp, and it's not pretending to be anything else.  Though it did have a few introspective parts, my favorite of which is below.  I love that it actually spawned a minor genre, called Ruritanian Romance.  Hope also wrote a sequel (Rupert of Hentzau) and a prequel (The Heart of Princess Osra), and I'm on the lookout for copies of those now.

Particularly Good Bits:

Ah!  But a man cannot be held to write down in cold blood the wild and black thoughts that storm a brain when an uncontrolled passion has battered a breach for them.  Yet, unless he sets up as a saint, he need not hate himself for them.  he is better employed, as it humbly seems to me, in giving thanks that power to resist was vouchsafed to him, than in fretting over wicked impulses which come unsought and extort an unwilling hospitality from the weakness of our nature (p. 91).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG for swashbuckling violence and veiled commentary about a woman's virtue being threatened.

This has been my 38th book read and reviewed for my third Classics Club list, and also my 10th for #TheUnreadShelfProject2022.

Tuesday, April 5, 2022

"In the Glorious Fields" by Emily Hayse

So, I inhaled this book.  In a day and a half.  That was the fastest I could read it, snatching paragraphs between cleaning my house for a visit from my in-laws, teaching my kids, and running various errands.  If I could have read it in one sitting, I would have, just to make ripping the Band-aid off go faster.  No lie:  I was very worried about what would happen in this book.

I'm going to love this book, the second time I read it, now that I know what happens to whom.  Right now, I'm almost a little numb from the sweeping emotions and powerful rightness of the finale.  I won't say this book "destroyed" or "wrecked" me, because if it had done that, I would never read it again.  This book satisfied me.  Very, very much so.  But it also brought me to tears several times, though most of those were at the end over happy things.  That's normal for me.  I cry more over wishes getting granted and hope being proven justified than over deaths and disasters.

This is the third and final book in the Knights of Tin and Lead trilogy, which retells the King Arthur legends as magical-realism westerns.  And, like the two books before it (These War-Torn Hands and The Beautiful Ones), it is drenched in golden beauty.  The characters view the plains and the mountains, the hills and the valleys, with a kind of joyful reverence that I whole-heartedly embrace.  Because I know exactly what it feels like to stand in the wind-swept vastness of the American West and rejoice to be so insignificant in the face of so much bold country.  I'm not sure any writer I've read has ever captured that feeling before, and I love it.

But I love the characters more.  Well, all except two, but I am happy to say they meet their just and deserved ends.  Moral balance is restored.  At great cost, yet, but restored.  I am pleased.

I'm contributing this review to the blog tour Emily Hayse put together for this book.  You can find out more about her at the following places:

Particularly Good Bits:

To talk with the one you love is a wonderful thing, but to exist in peaceable quiet together, perfectly happy and content, is an understanding some never achieve (p. 56).

"Strangers have to become friends pretty quick out here if they're going to survive" (p. 131).

During all my years as a wanderer and an outcast, I had given up hope.  To feel it again is strange, ill-fitting.  But I could get used to it.  I turn my face to the north and I do not look back again (p. 361).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for western violence, including mention of beatings and torture, and lots of peril.  No cussing, no smut, no gore.

This has been my 9th book read off my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2022, though, to be very honest, it never sat on my TBR shelves at all.  I started reading it as soon as I had it in hand.  This is my most-anticipated book release this year, and I am so, so happy to know how it ends now!!!

Saturday, April 2, 2022

Interview with Emily Hayse

I am so excited to have the chance to interview Emily Hayse about her new release, In the Glorious Fields, which is the grand finale for her Knights of Tin and Lead series.  You may recall that the first two books in the trilogy, These War-Torn Hands (my review here) and The Beautiful Ones (my review here) were on my list of top favorite reads from 2021.  I definitely have high expectations for this third and final installment!

(All photos are mine from my Instagram)

The Knights of Tin and Lead series retells the legend of King Arthur as magical-realism westerns.  Set in a fictional Old West territory, the books have the flavor of a classic western movie sprinkled with some pixie dust.  Thanks to them, Emily Hayse has shot onto my Auto-Buy Author list, and I am planning to read her back list as soon as I finish this series.

Okay, that's enough nattering from me!  On to the interview:

Rachel Kovaciny: Did you write all three books of this trilogy together and then revise and edit before each release, or did you write them one at a time?

Emily Hayse: One at a time! My original hope was to write them all together and do the revise and edit, but life didn't allow for that. However, I did have a lot of plotting and some scenes done ahead of time.

RK: If you were to describe In the Glorious Fields using three unrelated books, what would those three books be?

EH: The Killer Angels, San Domingo, Medicine Hat Stallion, and maybe Return of the King?

RK: Which character was the most fun to write? Why?

EH: That's so hard because truly, they were all fun! Maybe Peter. He's a lot like a brother of mine and I just love all the little details about his character because they just feel so true to life.

RK: Which character was hardest to write? Why?

EH: Honestly, none of them gave me that much trouble. Occasionally I got frustrated with Sikes for being incredibly obtuse, but his voice was always right there and very vivid. I guess, maybe Britt as well could be hard because he was so closed off it was hard to get anything out of him.

RK: What is your favorite western book?

EH: It's maybe a tad more in the historical fiction realm, but I love San Domingo, Medicine Hat Stallion. It was one of the books that really brought the West to life for me. After that, I really enjoy any of the Louis L'Amour Sackett books that feature Tell Sackett.

RK: What is your favorite western movie?

EH: Probably Conagher. It's a very sweet, poetic adaptation of a Louis L'Amour novel that Sam Elliott and his wife did shortly after Louis' death.

RK: What was your introduction to the King Arthur legend?

EH: Probably The Sword in the Stone, though that was a very long time ago. I remember reading adaptations for kids, Landmark books and such. I wish I had a childhood favorite, but I just sort of read whatever.

RK: Do you have a favorite version of King Arthur, book or movie (besides your own)?

EH: I became really fond of Roger Lancelyn Green's King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table while I was drafting this. I also really like Rosemary Sutcliff's trilogy.

RK: If you were a character in the King Arthur legend, who would you like to be?

EH: I would like to be Gawain maybe? He's very loyal, very family oriented, and has few flaws. But that doesn't necessarily mean I would be him!

RK: Any idea what you'll be writing next?

EH: Yes! It's mostly under wraps right now, but it's a shorter standalone novel, and it's sort of The Great Gatsby meets The Illusionist. And you can look forward to that probably in December.

You can find Emily Hayse at the following places:

I hope you've enjoyed this interview!  Thank you for answering my questions, Ms. Hayse :-)  It's been a pleasure!

Thursday, March 31, 2022

"Bed-Knob and Broomstick" by Mary Norton

I've never been a big fan of the Disney movie Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971), though I do like the part at the end when they animate all the suits of armor and send them into battle.  I've always wondered if that inspired J. K. Rowling when she was writing the Battle for Hogwarts.  Anyway, I was kind of planning to skip reading this for the Disney Origins Bookclub, since I don't care much for the movie.  But then I saw it was written by Mary Norton, who also wrote The Borrowers, and I love those books, so I decided to give it a try.

I liked this book SO much better than the movie!  It's whimsical and sweet and fun.  It's actually two novellas combined, "The Magic Bed-Knob" and "Bonfires and Broomsticks."  I liked the latter much better than the former, mostly due to the presence of a wannabe wizard from the Middle Ages who was sweet and hapless.  

In "The Magic Bed-Knob," three children discover that a woman who lives near the aunt they're staying with for the summer... is actually a witch in training.  Sort of.  She doesn't do much magic, though she does have a really cool stuffed alligator.  But she can do some, and she enchants a knob from the end of one of their beds so that it will take them wherever and whenever they want.  The children promptly go gallivanting off on small adventures that tend to turn out rather badly... but not TOO badly.  Then they have to go home again to London after the summer is over.

"Bonfires and Broomsticks" concerns a later summer when the children actually go stay with their witchy friend for the summer, expecting more adventures, only to find she's given up trying to be a witch!  She even got rid of her stuffed alligator!  Buuuuuuuuuuuuut she didn't get rid of the bed or the bed-knob, and the children convince her more adventures would totally turn out fine.  Except, of course, they don't.  They bring a wannabe wizard back from the past, who falls in love with their witch friend, and then some rather dire things almost happen back in the middle ages, but don't.  And it all turns out reasonably well.

I really liked that the kids got into trouble when they disobeyed authority figures, but they were also clever and brave and resourceful enough to get through some pretty tense moments on their own.  The magic here is all of the obviously pretend variety, like Harry Potter or the fairy godmother in Cinderella, not teaching young readers how to do magic or anything like that.  It also is shown to be pretty dangerous stuff that really shouldn't be messed around with.

Overall, this gave me quite a few chuckles, and I wouldn't mind rereading it one day.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for some dangerous situations and tense moments, including an incident where people almost get eaten by cannibals!

This has been my 37th book read and reviewed for my third Classics Club list.

Saturday, March 26, 2022

"Unbetrothed" by Candice Pedraza Yamnitz

This is an unusual and winsome fantasy story.  Unusual because its heroine starts out fairly unsympathetic, and because the setting has a Latin flavor to it, rather than Germanic or Nordic like so many fairy tales and fantasy books.  Winsome because it has a lot of kind and sweet and lovely secondary characters who more than made up for the unlikability of the heroine.

Princess Beatriz starts the story miserable and snappish because not only does she have no fiance, she has never received a magical gift the way she was supposed to as a child.  A wizard promised her one, but she hasn't received it yet, and she feels this makes her somehow less than.  She blames her lack of suitors on this, though she's already picked out the man she'd like to marry: her best friend, Prince Lux.  Unfortunately, Prince Lux is poised to marry someone else who does have a magical gift.

So Princess Beatriz sets out to visit a magical valley to find her wizard and demand her gift.  She drags along one of her attendants, the irrepressibly cheerful Laude.  Proud and self-absorbed, Beatriz treats Laude badly for quite a while, which was what made me really quite dislike her for much of the book -- she was rude, thoughtless, and demanding, and I just kept cheering Laude on for being so patient and helpful anyway.  Beatriz and Laude fall in with some travelers, led by a snarky and alluring man named Zichri who reminded me a lot of Flynn Rider from Tangled (2010).  They have many adventures, and end up back at Beatriz's castle trying to foil a devious political plot.

And, yes, Beatriz learns many lessons and becomes more likable by the end of the book.  But I still liked Laude a lot better.

This is not an overtly Christian story, but has definite Christian overtones and themes, and it's overall a clean read.  I'm handing my copy off to my kids to read because they love fantasy books, and although this one does have some romancey stuff, I think it also has enough adventureness that they'll get a kick out of it.

Particularly Good Bits:

"You are not a sum of achievements" (p. 43).

Regrets jailed me in just as much as the gray stone of each wall (p. 203).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for characters in peril and a little bit of innuendo regarding the intentions of some antagonistic men toward the female characters.  Nothing really suggestive, it's all between the lines -- like I said, I'm handing this off to my kids, and they're ages 10 to 14.

This has been my 8th book read from my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2022.

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

"The Eyre Affair" by Jasper Fforde (again)

I loved rereading this book!  I first read it in 2004, and I know I've read it at least once between then and now, but it's been at least a decade since my last journey into this wacky alternate universe of literary awesomeness.  This was long overdue.

It's hard to describe this book.  It's set in 1985 in an alternate universe where the Crimean War is still raging, people care about literature the way people in our world care about sports teams, and there are people who can bend time.  Also, dodos.  Also, portals into the insides of books.  Thursday Next is a government agent dealing with forged books and other literary crimes.  A really evil bad guy named Acheron Hades wreaks some havoc, Thursday runs into her former fiancĂ© Landen Parke-Laine, Jane Eyre gets kidnapped, and it all turns out happily. 

Plus, Mr. Rochester is a total sweetheart, Jane Eyre is calm and wise outside her book as well as in, and Thursday Next gets to engineer a happy ending for Jane and Rochester, who then return the favor. 

This isn't making much sense.  You'll just have to read the book to understand it.

Particularly Good Bits:

Ordinary adults don't like children to speak of things that are denied them by their own gray minds (p. 69).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-16 for some very bad language, some innuendo, and bits of violence here and there.  The language is the real reason I would not rate this PG-13.

Sunday, March 20, 2022

"Dear Irene," by Jan Burke (again)

What a perfect book to take on vacation!  This one galloped along at a terrific pace, and I really loved all the bits of Greek mythology that got woven into it.  I know I read this back in 2013 (also while on a road trip!), but really didn't remember it at all.

A serial killer sends Irene Kelly cryptic messages foretelling each kill before he makes it, or before he allows the body to be discovered.  They refer to her as Cassandra and him as Thanatos, and they reference lots of Greek mythology as little clues to lead her (and the police) to the next victim.  Of course, Irene Kelly and her fiance, Detective Frank Harriman, solve the mystery and stop the killer before he can finish his fiendish plot, but not before several people do die.

Some of the deaths in this one were pretty gruesome, but Irene herself didn't get tortured or anything, which made it easier to handle than the first couple books.  I think this is the last of the series I've read besides Bloodlines, so the next few I read will count for #TheUnreadShelfProject2022 :-D

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: R for profanity, gruesome crime scenes, characters in grave peril, and innuendo.  No open-door love scenes.