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.

Friday, March 18, 2022

"The Swiss Family Robinson" by Johann David Wyss

I read this with some friends on Instagram as part of the #DisneyOriginsBookClub last month, and it was such a fun trip down memory lane for me!  I read this several times as a kid, and I've seen the 1960 Disney movie dozens of times -- it's one my kids love now too.  But I haven't reread the book since my teens, so I was eager to revisit it.

I finished reading this right before we went to Florida on vacation.  My choice of attraction to visit in Disney World was the Swiss Family Robinson tree house, and it was awesome!  The pictures throughout this post are from my visit there.

A Swiss family -- Mother, Father, Fritz, Ernest, Jack, and Francis -- are stranded on a deserted island when the colonizing ship they were sailing on runs afoul of a giant storm.  Because that ship was meant for the establishment of a new colony, they have every conceivable tool and supply at their disposal.  They just have to ferry them to land from the shipwreck.  Also, because both Father and Mother are extremely resourceful and unbelievably knowledgeable, they have no trouble at all making a very fine new home on that deserted island.

One of the things I liked best about this book is how adamant the father (who is the narrator) is that they ask God to bless their every venture, and thank God for every blessing that befalls them.  You can tell that the author was a minister, and that he took his faith very seriously.

Besides being a minister, Johann David Wyss was an amateur naturalist and outdoorsman, and he made up this story as a series of bedtime stories for his sons, teaching them lessons about animals and nature, as well as survival skills and moral lessons.  He wrote the stories down eventually, but never shared them with anyone.  His son, Johann Rudolph Wyss (author of the Swiss national anthem!), eventually found his father's handwritten manuscript, spiffed it up, and submitted it to a publisher.  And it was a great success, way back in 1812.

All of that explains why this story is extremely episodic (because it was made up in little bits at bedtime, night after night) and occasionally pedantic (because it was meant to instruct the storyteller's sons).  Neither of those characteristics made the book unenjoyable for me in the slightest, but there were people in our reading group who found those aspects fairly off-putting, so YMMV.

Is this story far-fetched?  Totally.  Is it a rip-roaring good time?  Absolutely.  I really love stories of people building new lives with only what they have at hand, and that's probably due in a large part to this book.

By the way, the family's last name is NOT Robinson.  Their last name is never given, nor are the first names of the parents.  Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe was so popular when it came out in 1719 that it spawned an entire genre, called "robinsonade."  As this Wikipedia article explains, robinsinade stories are all about castaways surviving on deserted islands or in other remote and inaccessible places.  There were German robinsons and French robinsons and so on -- so the book's title means this is a robinson story about a Swiss family, not about story about a Swiss family named Robinson.

Now you know!

Particularly Good Bits:

With God's help, let us endeavour to live here contentedly, thankful that we were not cast upon some bare and inhospitable island (p. 20).

Everyone had the pleasant sensation which attends successful labour, as well as experiencing the joy of affording unexpected pleasure to others; and I especially pointed out to my sons how truly genuine happiness consists in that, rather than in mere self-gratification (p. 87).

But, in reality, the more there was to do the better; and I never ceased contriving fresh improvements, being fully aware of the importance of constant employment as a means of strengthening and maintaining the health of mind and body (p. 160).

And my great wish is that young people who read this record of our lives and adventures should learn from it how admirably suited is the peaceful, industrious and pious life of a cheerful and united family to the formation of strong, pure, and manly character (p. 237-38).

What can be more delightful than to find harmony of opinion in those we love when a great and momentous decision has to be taken? (p. 274)

"The whole earth is the Lord's, and where, as in His sight, you lead good and useful lives, there is your home" (p. 276).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for characters running into dangerous animals now and then.

This has been my 36th book read from my third Classics Club list.

Friday, March 4, 2022

"Son of a Wanted Man" by Louis L'Amour

Mike Bastian is the adopted son of Ben Curry, an aging outlaw king.  Curry expects Mike to take over his lawless empire so that he can retire with his secret family and live out the rest of his days in peace.  But Mike isn't sure he's interested.  When others in Curry's organization sense this, they try to take over themselves.  The ensuing violence and outlawry draws the attention of two lawmen, Borden Chantry and Tyrel Sackett, and Mike finally has to take a side and make his stand.

This was a pretty fun book, but the best part about it is that it led me to read Borden Chantry, which I totally loved.  Now I need to reread this one to more fully appreciate the ways it ties up to Chantry :-)

Also, Ben Curry totally reminded me of Ben Wade in 3:10 to Yuma (1957), and I love Ben Wade, so that was fun.

Particularly Good Bits:

The gray was a good mountain horse who went where only the imagination should go (p. 89).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for occasional mild cussing, western violence, and an abduction of a young woman that is obviously meant to end in rape, but doesn't.

This is the 7th book I've read off my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2022.