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!