Tuesday, May 31, 2022

"What Katy Did" by Susan Coolidge

What DID Katy do?  Oh, Katy does a lot of things.  Katy and her little siblings play, and sing, and read, and make messes, and get in trouble, and get hurt, and get well again, and rip their clothes, and get scolded... in other words, Katy and her siblings have childhoods.  Full and rich childhoods.

I can't believe I'd never read this book before.  I would have loved it as a kid!  It's got exactly the sort of chummy flavor I've long valued, like the Anne books and the Ramona books.  I would have spent a lot of time imagining I was friends with Katy, like I did with Anne and Ramona, when I was a kid.  Oh well, at least I've read it now!  And I have both sequels waiting on my TBR shelves!

I've seen people compare this to Anne of Green Gables a lot, as if Katy is a sort of proto-Anne, but I think she's a proto-Pollyanna.  In fact, there's quite a lot of Pollyanna in this book, including Katy suffering a terrible accident and having to learn a lot from it about how to handle life.  She struggles with that a great deal, but realistically, and the author doesn't offer either the character or the audience any pat answers on how to endure hardship.  She shows that it takes a lot of patience, learning, and willingness to try over and over.  I was impressed.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: G.  It's totally appropriate for all ages.  

This is my 43rd book read and reviewed for my third Classics Club list -- getting close to that goal of fifty!  It's also my 23rd book read from my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2022.

Monday, May 30, 2022

"In the Heat of the Night" by John Dudley Ball

I've been a fan of the 1967 movie In the Heat of the Night for almost two decades now, but it only recently occurred to me to find and read the book it's based on.  So, I did.  And now, I can say with confidence that if Ball's other Virgil Tibbs are anything like this, I have some really enjoyable reads ahead of me.

It's interesting that this book, which was published in 1965, has a very different tone from the movie.  The movie is dark and gritty and sweaty and determined not to let any characters come off looking totally good, not even Virgil Tibbs.

The book takes a different approach, with less overt racial hostility between the black cop and the white police chief he's trying to help solve a murder in the South.  The racism here is less loud and obvious than in the movie, but it's also more insidious.  Instead of most of the characters instantly jumping to bigoted conclusions about Virgil Tibbs the way they do in the movie, they think they're being very magnanimous and kind and "big" toward him by letting him sit in the front seats of their cars and eat sandwiches in the same room with them.  They believe that they're not behaving in a racist way at all toward him, but only because he's special -- he's educated and smart, and not from around there.

Slowly and gradually, both Chief Gillespie and beat cop Sam Wood start to realize that their long-held ideas about black people and white people are getting challenged and need changing.  I think this is a really effective approach for the book, because a lot of white readers in 1965 would probably have just put this down after a couple chapters if it had been as swift to make them realize they look bad as they are in the movie.  By gradually opening the characters' eyes instead, Ball lets them gently change minds for readers too.  The movie could hit harder and faster, because it was made in a time when people HAD to go to the movie theater to see it and would be less likely to walk out of a movie they'd paid money for, rather than put down a book or hurl it across the room.

The basic plot is the same:  Someone murders a wealthy man from out of town who was planning to bring a lot of business to the little Southern town.  The cops pull in a black man, Virgil Tibbs, who was waiting for a train in the middle of the night, assuming he must be the killer.  But it turns out he's actually a policeman too -- and not just a policeman, but a homicide detective.  Under orders from his boss to help solve this case, Tibbs figures everything out several steps ahead of the small-town cops.

I think Tibbs gets a better character arc in the movie, as he also learns to let go of some racially-charged opinions, and that doesn't happen so much here.  He's also more obviously the main character in that.  Here, there's not a clear main character, though my money would probably be on Sam Wood for that, as he has the clearest character arc, and the book begins with him and shares a lot of his thoughts throughout the story.

Particularly Good Bits:

Above the grill the black stain of hot grease vapor made a permanent monument to thousands of short orders that had been cooked, eaten, and forgotten (p. 4).

Gillespie used his eyebrows for question marks (p. 101).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: R for bad language, racist slurs, descriptions of a naked woman, discussion of a teenage pregnancy, mention of abortion, and a little violence.  It's about on par with the movie, except a bit less violent.

This has been my 42nd book read and reviewed for my third Classics Club list, and my 22nd book read off my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2022.

Saturday, May 28, 2022

"Rupert of Hentzau" by Anthony Hope

Argh. Argh. Argh. Argh. Argh. Argh. Argh. Argh. Argh.

I thought the ending to The Prisoner of Zenda was frustrating and melancholy?  Well, Anthony Hope doubled down on that with this book.  


Rudolf Rassendyl comes back to Ruritania to stop Rupert of Hentzau from ruining Queen Flavia's reputation by making public a letter she has written to Rudolf, bidding him goodbye because she's now married to King Rudolf, his distant relation that he's a dead ringer for and impersonated in The Prisoner of Zenda.  She's not being untrue to the king, but Rupert of Hentzau is going to make it appear that she is, and so all kinds of intrigue gets set in motion.  Rudolf tries to stop that with the help of his old buddies Colonel Sapt and Fritz von Tarlenheim, plus a couple of new friends.  And they succeed, but at great cost.


I mean, the ending makes sense, and it's really quite fitting, but I am still greatly displeased by it.  So there.

(Mine from my Instagram)

Particularly Good Bits:

"Pooh!" said Sapt.  "Nothing is wonderful: some things are unusual" (p. 65).

I think that the queen told my wife more, but women will sometimes keep women's secrets even from their husbands; though they love us, yet we are always in some sort the common enemy, against whom they join hands (p. 104).

I lay small store by such matters, believing that we ourselves make our dreams, fashioning out of the fears and hopes of to-day what seems to come by night in the guise of a mysterious revelation (p. 163).

Helga will never admit that she is clever, yet I find she discovers from me what she wants to know, and I suspect hides successfully the small matters of which she in her wifely discretion deems I had best remain ignorant (p. 170).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for insinuation that a wife has been unfaithful to her husband, some swashbuckling violence, and possibly a couple of mild curse words.

This has been my 41st book read and reviewed for my third Classics Club list, as well as my 21st book read off my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2022.

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 Shepherd.com.  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 Shepherd.com?  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.