Saturday, December 31, 2022

"Les Miserables" (Manga Classics) by Victor Hugo (original story), Crystal S. Chan (story adaptation), and SunNeko Lee (artwork)

The Manga Classics team did a remarkable job of paring down Victor Hugo's massive, rambling novel into a manga under 350 pages.  If you're familiar with the musical, you'll probably like a lot of the streamlining they did, as it's pretty similar to the musical.  They glossed over Fantine's final resorts to earn money in a tasteful way, enough so that I'll let my tween daughters read it.

I don't have lots to say about this one.  It presents Jean Valjean's journey from being released from prison to falling back into thievery, to repentance and reformation, to running from Inspector Javert over and over, to adopting orphaned Cosette and seeing her fall in love with a revolution-leaning lawyer named Marius, and so on.

I did feel that some of the artwork, especially Jean Valjean, reminded me of Nokman Poon's art for the Manga Classics Great Expectations and Count of Monte Cristo, and not so much like SunNeko Lee's art for their Jane Eyre... and then, I discovered at the back of the book that Nokman Poon served as the Chief Art Assistant here!  So that was kind of cool.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for depictions of poverty, theft, violence toward a child, men taunting a woman, and revolutionary violence that is pretty bloodless but does include a child's death.

This has been my 65th book read off my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2022!!!

Friday, December 30, 2022

"Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas" by Stephanie Barron

It's been ten years since I read any of the Jane Austen Mysteries by Stephanie Barron.  And I have only read the first four, which means there are seven books between where I stopped and this one.  But none of that mattered at ALL because I dove merrily and seamlessly into this book and enjoyed it thoroughly.

The only reason I quit reading this series in the first place is that my foolish local library system got rid of them.  Hmph.  I picked up a copy of this at the used book store and saved it to enjoy this month.  And enjoy it, I did!

Jane Austen, her sister Cassandra, and their mother get invited to a Christmas house party at the grand home The Vyne, owned by the wealthy Chute family.  This is especially welcome because they three ladies are spending the Christmas season with Jane's brother James Austen and his family, and his wife Mary is... well, you know Mary (Eliot) Musgrove in Persuasion?  Imagine if she was shrewish as well as petty and whiny, and you have Mary Austen as portrayed in this novel.

Unfortunately, during the festive house party, a messenger arrives with a message of great military and political import (it involves that upstart new country, the United States of America)... and gets murdered.  Jane Austen teams up with a new friend, Raphael West, who turns out to be much more than simply artist Benjamin West's son.  Together, they solve the crime, plus a few more that follow.  The whole book is a galloping good time, and I am now determined to collect up the whole series and finish reading it.

Particularly Good Bits:

The little fever of envy, once caught, is the ruin of all happiness (p. 142)

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for some mild bad language, unwitnessed violence, talk of suicide, and some decorous reflections on adult activities.

This is my 7th book read and reviewed for the Literary Christmas reading challenge this year, and the 64th book read off my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2022.

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Top Ten Tuesday: There Has Been an Addition

I didn't get many books for Christmas this year, but that's because I didn't ask for many.  I've been working for several years to cut my massive TBR stacks down to a manageable size, and part of that is being more intentional about what books I acquire.  

Still, I did get six books for Christmas, plus I bought a few more over the past weeks, so here are the "Most Recent Additions to My Book Collection," which is our prompt for Top Ten Tuesday from That Artsy Reader Girl this week.

Guy Williams: The Man Behind the Mask by Antoinette Girgenti Lane -- a biography of the actor who played Zorro on the Disney TV show back in the 1950s.  I adore that show, as Williams's portrayal of Zorro is my absolute favorite.  My dad gave me this for Christmas because he also loves that show.

The Reading Life: The Joy of Seeing New Worlds Through Others' Eyes by C. S. Lewis -- a collection of essays, articles, letters Lewis wrote pertaining to how rewarding reading can be.  My in-laws gave me this for Christmas -- it's one of the few books I did put on my wish list this year.

Persuasion by Jane Austen -- but not just any edition, an edition that includes handwritten copies of all the letters in the book!  And since this is the book with the finest love letter of all time in it, this is pretty much a must-have version of my favorite Austen novel.  A friend surprised me with this for Christmas.

(From my Instagram)

Srsly Hamlet by Courtney Carbone (and William Shakespeare) -- my beloved Hamlet retold as a series of text message conversations.  It's quirky and funny, and was a gift from a friend who also loves the Melancholy Dane.

The Lost Chronicles by Mark Cotta Vaz -- a companion to one of my favorite TV shows, Lost (2004-2010).  I'm having great fun paging through it.  This was also a gift from a friend.

Come Forth as Gold by Erica Dansereau -- a book that involves a gold mining town AND World War II?  I must read it.  This was a "secret Santa" gift from a member of the Christian Mommy Writers Group.

The Gold in These Hills by Joanne Bischoff -- it's about a mail-order bride and a gold rush and a ghost town.  I just wrote a book with a gold rush ghost town in it.  Obviously, I'm intrigued by this!  I bought it for myself.

A Classic Christmas Story Collection: The Christmas Hirelings and Other Stories from Moncreiff Press -- a wealth of lovely stories from classic authors like Louisa May Alcott, Charles Dickens, Hans Christian Andersen, O. Henry, Kate Douglas Wiggin, and Washington Irving.  I chiefly bought it because it contains The Christmas Hirelings by Mary Elizabeth Braddon, which I read this year and loved.

Silent Night; Holy Night by Colleen Coble -- two Christmas mystery novellas.  I bought this because I enjoyed All is Calm; All is Bright so much.  I reviewed it here.

All is Calm; All is Bright by Colleen Coble -- two more Christmas mystery novellas.  This was my book club's pick for our December read, and I very much enjoyed it.  My review is here.

Did you get some new books this month?  Do share!

Saturday, December 24, 2022

"Catching Christmas" by Terri Blackstock

I liked this book so much more than I expected to!  I picked it up at a library book sale at some point because I read a couple of Blackstock's books a few years ago and liked them.  But then I read some reviews that said the book was disappointing or boring or something, and so I went into it with really low expectations.  That might be why I liked it so much, I suppose.

Finn is a cab driver who answers a call to pick up a little old lady at her house.  He takes her to a doctor's appointment and leaves her in the waiting room with his card so she can call him again when she's done.  And he makes some very grumpy assumptions about the kind of people who would leave this sweet old lady to the care of a cab driver to get to a doctor's appointment.

Callie, the old lady, doesn't call him, so Finn goes back hours later because he's worried about her.  He discovers she's fallen asleep and never been seen by the doctor at all.  Now he's really upset with her family, whoever they may be.

Callie's granddaughter Sydney is a first-year lawyer at a high-powered firm that's just laid off most of its junior associates.  She's hanging onto her job by the skin of her teeth, trying to salvage a horrible case defending a frat boy who is clearly guilty as charged.  She's spending ten or twelve hours a day at work on this case, and using the rest of her time to care for her grandmother the best she can.  Her parents have both passed away, she's Callie's only remaining relative, and she's doing the best she can to juggle work and caring for her grandmother.

Naturally, Finn and Sydney eventually meet up.  Naturally, Callie tries to play matchmaker for them.  It was never a hard-to-predict plot, but it was very sweet and lovely.  But not sugary!  Finn has a biting wit and no-nonsense attitude that keeps the story from feeling saccharine.  

I suppose if you expected this book to be a suspenseful thriller like the other series I read by Blackstock, you would find this cozy and heartwarming story disappointing.  But I liked it a LOT.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for themes about elder abuse, dying, and the court case that involved alcohol and drug abuse.

This is my sixth book read for the Literary Christmas reading challenge and my 62nd for #TheUnreadShelfChallenge2022.

Friday, December 23, 2022

"Silent Night; Holy Night" by Colleen Coble

Because I enjoyed All is Calm; All is Bright so much last month, I thought I would try Colleen Coble's other Christmas novella duology too.  And now I have a conundrum: do I keep this paperback because I really liked one of the stories, or do I put it in the Little Free Library I steward because I didn't like the other story?  Ahhh, the troubles a bookworm faces, eh?

Silent Night is part of the Rock Harbor series set in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.  I lived in Michigan's Thumb for nine years as a kid and visited the UP several times, so I really loved the setting for this story.  I also enjoyed that it wasn't about two people falling in love, but about a husband-and-wife team of search-and-rescue people who live in a lighthouse.  It's all about a skydiver who dies and turns out to have had ties to a recent kidnapping.  I very much liked this story and would like to read the series at some point.

Holy Night is part of the Aloha Reef series set in Hawaii.  The setting was really fascinating, since I've never been to Hawaii, but I didn't like the characters very well, and you know that is make-or-break for me.  The main character, Kaia, kept refusing to trust her fiance with Extremely Important Information.  Over and over.  And did her fiance decide maybe this was a reason to reevaluate whether or not they should get married?  No, he was all focused on feeling abandoned and emotionally discarded.  Plus, he seemed to mostly love Kaia because she was hawt -- he kept focusing on their upcoming wedding night rather on the way she was not being a particularly sensible or trustworthy person. I would not have finished reading this novella except that I really loved Kaia's sister Eva, a young woman with Down Syndrome who gets kidnapped.  I very much needed to know if she got through this okay, so I kept reading.

So, now I just have to decide if I should keep this because I probably would like to reread Silent Night at some point, or if I should not.  Sigh.  Maybe I will keep it until I get a chance to read more of the Rock Harbor series, and then decide.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 for kidnappings, characters in danger, and a some intense kissing and mildly suggestive content.  No on-page smut.

This is my fifth book read for the Literary Christmas reading challenge and my 61st for #TheUnreadShelfProject2022.

Thursday, December 22, 2022

"Peter Pan" by J. M. Barrie

It's been years and years since I read Peter Pan, and I was overdue for a reread.  In fact, I've never read it as an adult. That made it rather a different experience, I must say.

As a kid, I saw this as a story about the wonders of staying young forever and the meanness of adults who force kids to grow up.  But I don't think that's Barrie's point at all.  I think his point is that, as we mature into adulthood, we start to see the world as it really is, and we discover that the real world isn't nearly as scary or perilous as we imagined it as a child.

Neverland is the combined imaginations of Wendy, John, and Michael, and everything is fairly frightening there.  Roving bands of pirates try to kidnap you, roving bands of Indians try to kill you, beasts are always trying to eat you up, mermaids laugh at you behind your back, and pixies irritate you whenever they can.  Doesn't that sound like a child's idea of the hardships of adulthood?

The thing is, when Wendy grows up, she discovers adulthood is sweet, rewarding, and enjoyable.  But Peter Pan is perpetually afraid of adulthood, so he remains perpetually a child... but he never learns the truth and never learns his fears are baseless.  

I think Barrie is also reminding us that we need to let kids be kids and not try to force them to be little adults.  They'll imitate adults for fun, and that's great, but if you try to push them into maturity before they're ready for it, you'll scare them.

In the end, I liked this book a LOT better than I was expecting to.  I thought it was going to make me sad because I've had to become an adult despite my best intentions... but instead, it made me happy I'm no longer a fearful child.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for killing, fighting, danger, and suspense.

This is my seventh book read and reviewed for my fourth Classics Club list.

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

"The Mistletoe Murder" by P. D. James

This is a collection of four short Christmas mysteries by P. D. James.  I'm afraid I didn't actually love any of them, though I did enjoy three of the four.  Here's a bit of what each is about, and what I thought of them:

"The Mistletoe Murder" -- A crime novelist reminisces about the time she was invited to a traditional English country house Christmas, someone got murdered, and she eventually figured out how and why.  I liked the 1940s setting and atmosphere, but was overall meh about the way this one basically excused murder as being okay if you have "good" reasons.

"A Very Commonplace Murder" -- A peeping tom knows that the wrong person is being tried for murder, but doesn't come forward.  This one was fairly icky and voyeuristic, and I was not a fan.  Also, I figured out whodunit before the reveal, which annoyed me.

"The Boxdale Inheritance" -- Chief Superintendent Adam Dalgliesh investigates a long-ago death at the behest of a family who wants to know if they can accept an inheritance in good conscience.  This one surprised me several times, and I quite enjoyed it.  My favorite of the four.

"The Twelve Clues of Christmas" -- Sergeant Adam Dalgliesh investigates what appears to be a suicide, but which he is convinced is a murder.  It got a little too cute here and there, and I kept feeling super sorry for Dalgliesh because he was missing out on enjoying Christmas with his family to deal with the crime.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 overall, but R for "A Very Commonplace Murder," which has all sorts of stuff about porn and voyeurism and rape.  The rest have little light cussing, four murders, some adult dialog.

This is my fourth book read for the Literary Christmas reading challenge and my 60th for #TheUnreadShelfProject2022.

Monday, December 19, 2022

Interview with Kendra E. Ardnek

There's a new Kendra E. Ardnek book launching today!   It's called Snowfield Palace, and it's a retelling of the fairy tale The Snow Queen mingled with the Jane Austen novel Mansfield Park.  I absolutely loved Emmazel, the previous book in Ardnek's Austen Fairy Tales series, and I greatly enjoyed the first two books (Rose Petals and Snowflakes and Crown and Cinder), so you know I am looking forward to reading Snowfield Palace too.

I've had the privilege of interviewing Ms. Ardnek and, today, I'm sharing that interview with you to celebrate this book's launch!

Rachel K:  How did you come up with the idea of combining fairy tales with Jane Austen books for your retellings? 

Kendra A:  It's been a niggling idea ever since I realized that Austen retellings were a thing, but nothing I ever actually pursued because, at the time, the only Austen novels I had actually read were Emma and P&P. (With some bonus points for having seen both film adaptations of S&S and I'd started Persuasion) However, it came to the forefront of my mind again when my friends released some depression-era Austen retellings, and suddenly "Mash 'em with fairy tales" just clicked and there was no turning back. 

Rachel K: How difficult was it to find fairy tales to match with Austen's books? 

Kendra A: It was varying degrees of difficult, and I actually have some friends to thank for the last two. S&S + Snow White and Rose Red was a given, as the two tales both had such strong themes of sisterhood, and I knew Brandon would make an amazing bear. I'd had Cinderella+P&P niggling at the back of my head ever since an article I'd read once, so it was also a given. Emma + Rapunzel mostly happened because I had Rapunzel on my brain from other projects, but as soon as I had the connection I was sold on it. 

The others, I still hadn't read yet as I brainstormed the project, but I did know enough about Mansfield Park to pair with The Snow Queen based on the friends-to-lovers and "other woman." Kelsey Bryant suggested Beauty and the Beast for Northanger Abbey based on the Gothic imagery, though I do have a second fairy tale that will be a plot twist, and Jenelle Leanne Schmidt pointed out that The Little Mermaid is based on the forbidden romance and the fact that Wentworth in Persuasion is a ship captain. 

Rachel K: What has surprised you while writing this series? 

Kendra A: How easy it is to sell with just "Hey! You! Have you ever wanted to read Jane Austen and a fairy tale at the same?" And also the fact that everyone assumes that it's regency fantasy. I mean, I could have gone that route, but I'm a medieval fantasy author and thought it would be more fun to reimagine Austen in the aesthetic of fairy tales, and not the other way around. 

Rachel K:  Who has been your favorite character in this series so far? 

Kendra A:  Based on how often I use her, Elinrose? Ginny has been the easiest to write, though. 

Rachel K:  What's your favorite fairy tale? Have you ever retold it? 

Kendra A:  That's a rabbit hole. I love obscure tales, and I generally have a list that I'll pull from on a given day and state as a favorite. Most I haven't had a chance to retell yet, though, just because it's far easier to market Cinderella. (But I also have an obsession with retelling Cinderella, having released two of them just this year.) But I have plans. 

Rachel K:  Do you have a favorite fairy tale retelling written by someone else? 

Kendra A:  Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine. Best retelling ever written, and probably what caused my life-long obsession with retelling Cinderella. 

Rachel K:  What's your favorite Jane Austen novel? 

Kendra A:  Emma. Snarky Knightley is life. But I do have a soft spot for Mansfield Park and find it one of Austen's most fascinating works. 

Rachel K:  Do you have any favorite movie adaptations of Austen's books? 

Kendra A:  There's this little-known S&S retelling called Frozen that I think is pretty good. It's animated, and it removes the Ferrars plotline in lieu of secret ice magic, but has one of the best Marianne's I've ever seen. 

In a *cough* more serious note, I largely prefer TV series adaptations, and usually the old-old ones from the 70's and 80's. I do like the 2020 Emma movie, though. The stylization was pretty. 

Rachel K:  What's something about your writing or your books that nobody asks you, but you want to talk about or explain? 

Kendra A:  "Will I be doing more fairy tale / classic novel mashups after I'm done with Austen?" It's currently the plan! The Shakespeare Fairy Tale is going to be next, and then I have The Dickens Fairy tale and some random Classic novels that will be combined into The Classic Fairy Tale. I also have elf-human romance series of Austen retellings called Elven Prejudice. Can't promise when you'll see any of them, because The Fairy Tale Maneuver has priority, but they're in the pipeline and I look forward to writing them.

If you want to know more about Snowfield Palace, here's the official description:
Ginny doesn't belong in Snowfield Palace, but she has nowhere else to go. An old promise between her mother and Lady Bethim keeps her off the streets when she's left alone in the world, and she's eternally grateful for the home - and the friendship of Kaimund, Lady Bethim's son. She makes herself useful however possible and life is quiet. Until the far-too-charming Prince Hans and his sister Maia visit and send her world spinning. A shattered mirror is nothing to laugh about, and a new, dark magic could destroy everything.
You can buy Snowfield Palace here for Kindle today, and there will be a paperback edition available soon.  You can find the whole series on Amazon here.  And here's the Goodreads page for Snowfield Palace so you can add it to your want-to-read shelf.

Thank you for letting me interview you, Ms. Ardnek!  This has been a genuine pleasure :-)

Friday, December 16, 2022

"The Snow Storm: A Christmas Story" by Catherine Gore

Although parts of this had that overblown purple prose too many Victorian authors were fond of, the story was a lovely one, and I especially enjoyed the last few chapters.

The story concerns a small British village next to a large estate.  The estate was purchased by some newly rich people and utterly renovated by them quite recently.  They plan to have a fancy Christmas party there and have invited a lot of friends from London to make merry there with them.

The renovations involved turning an old man out of the farm which his family had tenanted for generations, and he is slowly sinking toward death with the grief of this.  But he has a very cheerful and competent niece (?) who is taking care of him now and has made his poor cottage into a snug home.

The London friends get stuck in a blizzard on their way to the estate and must take shelter where they can.  Naturally, some of them stop at this cottage of the poor, dispossessed old man.  Also naturally, a stranger also stops there who turns out not to be a stranger at all, because this is Victorian Literature and Everyone Must Be Connected Somehow.

Happily, I read enough Victorian books to be cool with that ;-)  I did enjoy the book a lot, though I freely admit to having skimmed some of the more purple parts.

Particularly Good Bits:

The poor were sanguine.  The poor are usually sanguine.  It is one of the few luxuries in which they can indulte.

...she had laughed her way through the labours of life;--guiltless of an unkind word or unfair action:--comprising her moral law in "do as you would be done by;" and her philosophy in "put your shoulder to the wheel; tomorrow's a handier help than yesterday."

If Dinah's whole life, in short, had been one of unmixed prosperity, it could scarcely have left her more thankful, or more thoroughly content.

However cheerless the prospects of the family, the sunshine of her buoyant spirits rendered them light.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: G.  Nothing objectionable here.

This is my third book read for the Literary Christmas Reading Challenge, my 59th book read from my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2022, and my sixth for my fourth Classics Club list.

Thursday, December 15, 2022

"Emmazel" by Kendra E. Ardnek

I really enjoyed the first two books in this series, Rose Petals and Snowflakes and Crown and Cinder, but I LOVED Emmazel.  That surprised me, because Emma is one of my least-favorite Jane Austen books, and even though Rapunzel is one of my more-favorite fairy tales, I thought the Emma connection would possibly hold me away from this a bit.  But, instead, Ardnek adressed the things that bug me about Emma (Emma's incorrigible meddling, in particular) and tweaked them in ways that made the characters work much better for me.

Emmazel is known locally as "the witch of the tower."  She has lived for decades in a magical tower that keeps her safe.  There, she tends her garden, makes love "potions" and herbal remedies, and delights in finding noble husbands for her assistants.  But she has more power than she realizes and is more important than she knows, and when a man called Sir E arrives and gradually reveals who and what Emmazel really is, everything changes.  For the better, eventually, but things are untidy and difficult for quite some time.  Throw in a flirty prince, a sarcastic cat, and a father who can turn himself into the wind, and you've got a very magical story here indeed.

My favorite aspect of this book is that Mr. Knightley here is a talking cat named Night.  Somehow, that is just absolutely perfect, and... I don't want to spoil this book too much, but pretty much all my favorite parts involved Night.  And, yes, there's still some romance, even though Night is a cat and Emmazel is not.  Trust me, it works, and it's not weird.  You'll just have to read it.

I also loved that Emmazel is in her forties.  No teenage princess here, which was really interesting and refreshing!

Particularly Good Bits:

"Everything will be all right.  It's okay to be scared when your world grows.  And yours has been so small for so long" (p. 73).

"One should never swear off men until at least six weeks have passed since your disappointment" (p. 86).

"I've always thought that orphans found on doorsteps have the best opinions of all," said Christian.  "For if they are well-treated and happy with their lot, then things really are at peace, yes?" (p. 159).

"There's more to life than exotic fish" (p. 165).

"Live in a tower with a snarky, talking cat for over twenty years, and soon you run out of polite conversation and move on to friendly jabs" (p. 174).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for some discussions of love potions, children who were abandoned, and discussions of parents dying.

This has been my 58th book read off my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2022.

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Top Ten Tuesday: Winter Wishes

Today's prompt from That Artsy Reader Girl for Top Ten Tuesday is "Books on My Winter 2022-2023 To-Read List."  I'm dividing this into five Christmas books I hope to read by the end of the month and five non-Christmas books I hope to read in January and February.

Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas by Stephanie Barron

Catching Christmas by Terri Blackstock

Silent Night/Holy Night by Colleen Coble

The Mistletoe Murder by P. D. James

A Victorian Christmas by Catherine Palmer

The Gold in these Hills by Joanne Bischof

Come Forth as Gold by Erica Dansereau

The Last Atlantean by Emily Hayse

Beauty by Robin McKinley

The Bell Family by Noel Streatfeild

Have you read any of these?  What's on your hope-to-read list for this winter?

Friday, December 9, 2022

"This Cursed Line" by Morgan Hubbard

This book has such a unique premise!  It's kind of like if the Devil went down to Georgia looking for a soul to steal, and he found one and stole it.  And then he doomed that person to go out finding other souls to steal until they paid him back the debt they owed, and their children and children's children and so on would have to keep doing that too.  Until the debt is paid in full.  Except, he went up to Washington instead of down to Georgia.

Kind of.  This is a tricky book to explain.  Let me try again.

Alexander Pike VI is a nice young man, except for one thing: he works for the Devil.  The Devil sends him to find specific people and bring them back to the Devil, who then either just takes them to Hell or dooms them to something bad happening here on earth before they die.  Depending on what flavor of evil he's feeling.

The thing is, Pike still has a conscience.  He's not a demon, he's just a cursed human.  And he hates what he has to do, but he's stuck doing it because, if he doesn't, someone he loves will be chained to the Devil's will instead.  He chooses to serve out the sentence of his forebears so no one else has to.

And then, Pike meets Miss Cassidy Jackson, a sweet and lively young lady, the daughter of a respected doctor.  When Pike realizes he's falling in love with her, he tries to hide his affection from the Devil, knowing his master will turn this against him.

Which, of course, the Devil does.  He dangles the promise of an end to Pike's sentence in front of him all while toying with Pike like a vicious cat with its prey.  In the end, Pike must accept that he has always had choices, and even though he told himself he was only doing the Devil's bidding to protect someone else, he's been lying to himself all along.  There are a lot of powerful metaphors going on in this book about temptation, sin, and how we justify our behavior to ourselves.  And about how enticing and attractive the Devil can be.  

Yes, this is a new adult fantasy book, but it has some nice weight to it, and I like that it doesn't shy away from difficult moral questions.  At the same time, it never descends into the kind of tawdry material that so many new-adult fantasy books do, and I very much appreciated and applaud that.

This book is expected to be released in March of 2023.  I received a free ARC of This Cursed Line from the publisher.  I was not asked or instructed to leave a review, positive or otherwise.  All opinions are my own, and honest.

Particularly Good Bits:

"It's rude to be a monster unnecessarily."

"I don't believe in love at first sight, but I do believe in friendship at first introduction."

Pike clenched his jaw shut, willing memories not to overflow like tears.

In the mountains, leaves were starting to fade from their blazing oranges and yellows to deep reds and browns, on their path of death for winter like Pike's own soul, rotting from within.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-16 for some violence, some pretty scary and sometimes gross stuff involving the Devil, plus a situation where a man tries to force himself on a teen girl, but is stopped.  No actual smut, but some mild language.

Thursday, December 8, 2022

"All is Calm; All is Bright" by Colleen Coble

This book is two Christian fiction mystery novellas, All is Calm and All is Bright, and although they both belong to other series Coble has written, they stand on their own perfectly well too.  Which is good, because we read this for my church's book club this month, and none of us had read any of her other books before.  But I plan to look for more now!

All is Calm is part of the Lonestar series, which takes place in Texas (obviously).  A woman accused of helping sabotage a race horse runs away -- with the race horse -- and finds sanctuary at a ranch that helps kids with emotional problems.  She had stayed there as a teen and remembers that it was a place of comfort and hope.  Once there, she teams up with an injured veteran to figure out who actually sabotaged the horse... and they end up clearing up a couple other mysteries too.  And falling in love in the process, because of course they do!

All is Bright is part of the Hope Beach series, which is set in the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  In it, a bright and helpful woman is targeted by an unknown assailant who forces her car off the road and into the ocean.  She survives, but she and the local sheriff can't figure out who would try to harm or kill her, since she's the most helpful person you've ever met.  Of course, they eventually do solve the mystery and catch the culprit, while starting to fall a little bit in love in the process.  

Of the two, I liked All is Calm better.  Part of that was the location -- a Texas ranch is always going to be catnip for me -- but part of it was that I simply felt like we got to know the characters in it really well.  I had a little bit harder time connecting to the people in All is Bright, but I did enjoy it a lot anyway.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-10 for some mild violence and characters in peril.  Both romances are clean and wholesome.

This is my second book read and reviewed for A Literary Christmas and my 57th read from my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2022.

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Top Ten Tuesday: Old and Loving It

I missed the August 16 Top Ten Tuesday prompt from That Artsy Reader Girl, so I'm doing it for this week's freebie.  It was "Books I love that were written over ten years ago."  Ahem.  That's actually ALL of my top ten favorite books of all time!  So, here they are, with their publication dates in case you are curious:

1. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte -- published in 1847

2. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas -- published in 1844

3. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien -- published in 1955

4. The Hound of the Baskervilles by A. Conan Doyle -- published in 1902

5. The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton -- published in 1967

6. The Blue Castle by Lucy Maud Montgomery -- published in 1926

7. Persuasion by Jane Austen -- published in 1817

8. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows -- published in 2008

9. Shane by Jack Schaefer -- published in 1949

10. The Black Stallion by Walter Farley -- published in 1941

I think it's rather cool that my top ten favorite books basically span 200 years, from 1817 to 2008!

Monday, December 5, 2022

"The Sign of the Beaver" by Elizabeth George Speare

I remember loving this book as a youngster.  Anything to do with American Indian life has always fascinated me, and when you add that to a story about a kid living off the land on his own, and I was destined to be a fan.

Happily, this book totally lived up to my memories of its excellence.  I read it aloud to my kids this fall, and all three of them were enthralled.  I suspect they'll be rereading it themselves now.

Twelve-year-old Matt went out into the Maine wilderness with his father and built a cabin on land the family had just bought.  Together, he and his father also cleared a field and planted corn.  Then, his father leaves to fetch the rest of the family.  He says he'll be back in six or seven weeks. Long before harvest.  He leaves Matt a rifle and ammunition, food supplies, and his own father's pocket watch.  And he trusts this adolescent kid to guard the house, tend the crops, and survive.  Alone.

Which Matt does.  He makes mistakes, he has accidents, and he gets into some fairly dangerous situations.  But the chief of a nearby American Indian village makes a bargain with Matt: if Matt will teach the chief's grandson Attean to read English, the Indians will keep Matt supplied with fresh food and help him stay safe.  Attean teaches Matt how to find his way in the forest, how to hunt with a bow and arrows, and how to make many useful tools.  Matt tries to teach Attean to read.  Together, they both learn how to be better neighbors and friends.

My perspective on this story was a little different now that I'm a parent of half-grown kids myself.  I kept imagining what his father must have felt, leaving his twelve-year-old son alone in the middle of the wilderness to take care of the new cabin and the growing crops alone.  But, mostly, I got caught up in the adventure of the story and simply enjoyed it the way I did when I was a tween myself.

Particularly Good Bits:

Day after day Matt tramped the woods alone, trying to shake the doubts that walked beside him like his own shadow (p. 91).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for some dangerous situations that would scare young children.

Thursday, December 1, 2022

"The Christmas Hirelings" by M. E. Braddon

This sweet little novella is like the epitome of Victorian Christmas fiction: filled with the knowledge that life can be fleeting and people can be cruel... but they don't need to be.

An aging aristocrat, his good friend, and his niece are all set to spend a very boring Christmas together at the aristocrat's country manor.  Then his friend suggests they "hire" some children to liven up their festivities, and after some consideration, they decide to do exactly this.  The friend departs for a while and returns with three siblings who are genteel, enthusiastic, and intelligent, and who fill the manor house with all the joy and brightness it was missing.

The smallest child is precocious in both intellect and attitude, and she captures the aristocrat's attention and eventually claims his heart (in a grandfatherly sort of way, never fear)... and then calamity strikes.  And, because this is Victorian literature, you can never be too sure that everything will turn out fine because some Victorian authors will just randomly kill off children just to make you cry, so I finished the last couple chapters of this novella with a lot of trepidation.  But I liked it a lot, by the very end.

Particularly Good Bits:

"Christmas can hardly be made too much of where there are children in question."

"They are small, but they are people."

Each of the children discovered a glittering new coin, and in Moppet's portion there were two sixpences.  The stout and serious butler helping the pudding on the carving-table by the light of a single candle was suspected of treasonable practices.

"People who are unhappy don't like anything.  Unhappiness is disliking."

"My life was barren, but it was peaceful.  What more did I want?"

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

I read this as part of the #DickensDecember2022 group challenge on Instagram, and it's also my first book read for the Literary Christmas Reading Challenge this year.  It's also my sixth book read for my fourth Classics Club list AND my 56th book read off my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2022.  Whew!

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Top Ten Tuesday: Getting Cozy

This week's Top Ten Tuesday prompt from That Artsy Reader Girl is "Cozy Reads."  I love cozy books, so it wasn't hard to come up with ten favorites... it was hard narrowing the list down to ten!  But here they are, with a few cozy attributes for each and the titles linked to my full reviews.

1. The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery -- cottage, winter, fireside reading, cats, book lovers, nature lovers, small town, slow-burn romance

2. Persuasion by Jane Austen -- seaside, friendship, family ties, homebody, bookish discussions, second-chance romance

3. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows -- bookworms, letter-writing, island life, community, found family, gentle romance

4. Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery -- farmhouse, found family, nature lovers, friendship, girlhood, small town, flowers

5. The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim -- Italian villa, flowers and nature, self-discovery, friendship, sunshine, fresh air, vacation

6. Jane of Lantern Hill by L. M. Montgomery -- cottage, baking, cooking, reading, writing, family reunion, fathers and daughters, friendship, small town

7. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen -- seaside, book lovers, dancing, drawing, carriage rides, young love, old houses

8. Gone-Away Lake by Elizabeth Enright -- abandoned houses, sunshine, cousins, friendship, secrets, small town

9. The Printed Letter Bookshop by Katherine Reay -- bookshop, small town, friendship, family ties, books everywhere

10. A Little Beside You by Jenni Sauer -- waffles, baking, friendship, found family, sisters, knitting, gentle romance

How about you?  What are your favorite cozy reads?