Sunday, July 31, 2022

"The Light of Western Stars" by Zane Grey (again)

Yup, this is now officially a favorite western novel for me.

Now, the funny thing is, the first time I read this book, I got really mad at the ending because I seem to have missed one very key sentence toward the end.  (SPOILERS in the rest of this paragraph only.)  And I still think that a showdown between Gene Stewart and Don Carlos is called for, and I'm mad that we didn't get one.  BUT.  Grey does tell us that Don Carlos got captured and thrown in jail.  He's not left on the loose, waiting to ambush Stewart and Madeline on their way home.  (End of SPOILERS.)

I learned recently that Grey wrote a sequel to this, called Majesty's Rancho.  When I was at the Zane Grey Museum in Zanesville, Ohio, last week, I picked up gorgeous vintage 1940s editions of both books, and promptly started rereading this.  I've watched the 1940 movie version several times since the first time I read the book, so I wanted to get the book back in my head before reading the sequel.  Which I hope/plan to read this summer still, after I finish up a few other things I am currently reading.  I'm really excited to see where Stewart and Madeline's lives take them!  Fingers crossed that it's a happy book and not full of them getting angry at each other over misunderstandings all the time, or something lame like that.

In this book, Madeline "Majesty" Hammond comes west to visit her brother and runs afoul of drunken cowboy Gene Stewart before she's even left the train station.  What ensues?  Only a secret and unconsummated marriage, a lot of dramatic scenery, really crazy car driving, a Mexican revolution, and a rugged camping trip just to add some spice.

Parts of this book kind of demand the readers leave modern sensibilities behind, but that's not something I personally have difficulty doing because I read a LOT of old books, and I know enough about history to understand when things are a product of the era they were written in, and when they're something I'm just not going to be okay with no matter what.  If you can't do that without it ruining your enjoyment of this book, you probably aren't going to like it.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for western violence and a little bad language here and there.

Friday, July 29, 2022

"Mandy" by Julie Andrews Edwards

I read this aloud to my kids this summer, and I was surprised to discover I only remembered about a third of it, even though I thought I had read it over and over when I was a kid myself.  I think that I actually just reread my favorite parts over and over back then, which were all the parts where Mandy is planting a garden and cleaning the cottage.  I remember those parts vividly, but there were huge parts of the book that weren't familiar at all.

Mandy is a ten-year-old orphan who lives in a small orphanage in Great Britain.  She sneaks over the wall around the orphanage's grounds, wanders off, and discovers an abandoned cottage with an overgrown garden.  She claims it as her own, works in the garden until it's beautiful, cleans up the cottage, and keeps the whole thing a secret for a long time.  

But then, tragedy strikes, and Mandy falls very ill.  And then everything ends really happily.  None of which I remembered at all!

As a kid, I did not know that the Julie Edwards who wrote Mandy was actually Julie Andrews who played Mary Poppins and Maria Von Trapp -- my copy only has the name Julie Edwards on the cover because that was the name she published it under.  I guess she wanted her writing to be taken seriously for its own sake and not just because she was a famous actress, so she published it under her married name.  Now, though, she's published a lot of books under her full name, so modern copies have her full name of Julie Andrews Edwards on it.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate it: PG.  There are a few mild curse words and a few instances of adults taking God's name in vain.

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

"The Black Swan" by Rafael Sabatini

I adore the 1942 movie The Black Swan, which is supposedly based on this book.  I'd heard that the book is quite different from the movie, so I've avoided reading it for years because I was afraid that I was going to be disappointed by it.  

Well, that was silly.  The book is ENTIRELY different from the movie, except that it involves Captain Henry Morgan, Tom Leach, and another pirate who pretends a lady is his wife in order to keep her safe.  Those are literally the only similarities.  Which was awesome, because that allowed me to enjoy this book for its own sake.  I'm so glad a couple friends on Bookstagram convinced me to try this book after all.

This book is about a French pirate who protects a young lady by pretending she's his wife when they both run into the dastardly pirate Tom Leach.  The bulk of the book takes place on an island, and there's lots of awesome swordplay, and there's one short sea battle between ships, too.  This is not a deep or weighty book -- it is unashamed of being a rollicking good time, and I am eager to read more of Sabatini's books now too!

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 for some innuendo, mild violence, and a smattering of old-fashioned curse words.

This has been my 47th book read and reviewed for my third Classics Club list and my 38th book read off my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2022.

Friday, July 22, 2022

"Ophelia" by Lisa Klein

I read this book about ten years ago, and I really enjoyed it then, so I was excited when it got made into a movie a few years later.  I very much like the movie as well, so I'm glad I had a chance to reread the book.  It's just as good as I remembered!  Such an intriguing take on Hamlet, not only because it's told through Ophelia's eyes instead, but because Lisa Klein weaves aspects of a couple other Shakespeare plays into it too.

In Ophelia, we get to see the title character growing up alongside her brother and interacting with Prince Hamlet more and more as they grow older.  Klein gives them a sweet and tender love story, then shows us how Hamlet's desire for vengeance grows into a kind of madness that eventually wrecks everyone around him, including his secret wife, Ophelia.

Yes, we get a secret marriage between Hamlet and Ophelia in this book, which I find completely fitting.  Everything Klein writes works well with Shakespeare's play as we know it, but with the camera pointed a different direction, rather like the play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead by Tom Stoppard.  But in a much less wacky and silly way.  Even the way that Klein twists the ending of her book works with the original play while pulling in elements of other tragedies.

If you like viewing classic stories from a different angle, if you're a Hamlet or Shakespeare fan, or if you just like stories of strong, yet sweet and loving women, I definitely recommend this book.

(From my Instagram account)

Particularly Good Bits:

I could not make sense of this Janus-faced husband who spoke false and true at once (p. 152).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-16 for a non-steamy and obliquely described love scene, an attempted sexual assault, crude humor, suggestive dialog, and discussions of things like menarche and childbirth.

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Top Ten Tuesday: What Would Belle Read?

This week's Top Ten Tuesday from That Artsy Reader Girl is a freebie!  That means we get to choose our own topic, which is always fun.

A friend recently sent me a reel on Instagram listing books that one bookstagrammer thought Belle from Beauty and the Beast would enjoy.  I didn't know any of the books they listed, so I decided to do my own list, based on these lyrics from her song at the beginning of the movie:
Oh, isn't this amazing?
It's my favorite part because -- you'll see --
Here's where she meets Prince Charming,
But she won't find out it's him 'til chapter three...

Obviously, Belle wants to read books that involve sweet romances where the characters don't fall in love immediately, but take a while to get to know or even to like each other.  So, I made my own list of ten books I think she would like.  All titles are linked to my own reviews if you want to know more about them!

The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery -- Doctor tells shy, withdrawn woman she is dying.  Woman sets out to live as much as she can in the time she has left and gradually falls in love with someone she supposedly shouldn't.

Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster -- Young woman is granted scholarship to go to college, with stipulation she must write letters about her progress to unknown benefactor.  Falls in love with man who is more than he seems.

Enchanted by Alethea Kontis -- Girl falls in love with frog who is actually royalty, but also her father's enemy in this fascinating YA fantasy book that combines ever so many fairy tales into one heady mix.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte -- Young governess falls for employer who has dark secret that might separate them for ever.

Jane of Austin by Hillary Manton Lodge -- Two sisters move to Texas, open tea shop, fall in love in this retelling of Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen.

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell -- Young woman moves to the city with her impoverished parents, clashes with wealthy man over every subject possible, learns lessons about life.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen -- Two sisters fall in love with two friends, but it takes the whole book for them to actually get together for good.

A Room with a View by E. M. Forster -- Conventional young woman touring Italy meets an unconventional young man, shares enchanted moment, parts with him, then meets him again back home in England.

Speak Easy, Speak Love by McKelle George -- Determined young woman spends summer at cousin's house, sparring verbally with another house guest in this retelling of Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare.

Yesterday, or Long Ago by Jenni Sauer -- Two friends sneak into royal ball, dance with handsome guys, fall in love, discover handsome guys are actually really important men in this gender-swapped "Aladdin" retelling.

Sunday, July 17, 2022

"Sense and Sensibility" (Manga Classics) by Jane Austen (original story), Stacy King (story adaptation), and Po Tse (art)

This is my favorite of the Jane Austen books from Manga Classics.  They didn't let the actual point of the book slide the way they did with Emma, and they didn't have anyone calling anyone else by an anachronistically incorrect name the way they did in Pride and Prejudice.  The artwork was awesome, and the storytelling was spot on.

I really loved how they used hairstyles to highlight the personality differences between Elinor and Marianne.  Marianne has loose, flowing, sometimes untamed hair, while Elinor's is always pulled into a well-contained bun.  That really suited them, and I enjoyed learning from the afterword that Po Tse deliberately designed their hairstyles to represent them in exactly that way!

I wish that this series would do Austen's other three major novels, too.  It looks like right now, they're focusing on releasing modern language versions of the Shakespeare titles in their stable, but maybe they'll return to Austen one day?

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: G.  They did portray young Eliza as pregnant, but they did not mention in writing how Willoughby had dishonored her, so younger readers probably won't be shocked or confused by that.  Like the others, though, this would probably be more of interest to tweens and up rather than children, anyway.

This has been my 37th book read off my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2022.

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

"What Katy Did at School" by Susan Coolidge

I liked this book even better than its predecessor, What Katy Did!  In this story, Katy and Clover Carr attend a boarding school for young ladies rather far away from their home and family.  The experience deepens their sisterly bond, but also allows them to branch out and form new friendships independent of each other.

The girls have quite a few small adventures at school, sometimes of their own making and sometimes instigated by their new friends.  Katy also gets into some rather serious trouble because someone else sends a note to a boy and signs her name to it, and such note-sending is forbidden.  But rather than leave school in disgrace, Katy vows to let her good conduct exonerate her.

I really loved how Katy's kindness and thoughtfulness won over a rather unpleasant teacher, over time.  That reminded me a little of how Anne befriends Katherine in Anne of Windy Poplars, but with a student-teacher dynamic instead of kindness shown to an equal.  I thought that was believably and gently written.

Particularly Good Bits:  

Illness had not changed her materially.  It is only in novels that rheumatic fever sweetens tempers, and makes disagreeable people over into agreeable ones (p. 172).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  G.  It's clean, wholesome, and uplifting.  And fun!

This is my 46th book read for my third Classics Club list and my 36th book read from my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2022.

Sunday, July 10, 2022

"Pride and Prejudice" (Manga Classics) by Jane Austen (original story), Crystal S. Chan (story adaptation), and Po Tse (art)

Like the Manga Classics version of Emma, this book updates a lot of the language from the original book, presumably to make it more understandable and accessible to kids these days.  I don't have an issue with that.  This isn't pretending to be an illustrated edition of the original book, but a manga adaptation.  However, I do have one issue with this aspect of this book:  Elizabeth Bennet constantly calls Mr. Darcy just plain "Darcy."  Aloud, in her head, to his face, all of it.  And that annoyed me a LOT.  It might not bother you at all, but it bothered me.

Aside from that, this is a completely adorable book.  In particular, the chibi version of Mrs. Bennet that cropped up whenever she was upset or excited was super duper cute!  I really liked the artwork, and I thought they brought the book to life very well, over all.

But it's not okay to call Mr. Darcy just plain "Darcy."  It's not.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: G.  They glide genteelly over the reasons why Wickham and Lydia running away together are a problem, while not understating how terribly this affects the other Bennet girls.  Quite delicately handled.

This is the 34th book I've read off my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2022.

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

"Seventh City" by Emily Hayse

Seventh City
 is a magical realism story based in a fictional world similar to the Pacific Northwest/Alaska back in Old West days.  It's about a native tribe and some Invaders, basically fantasy versions of Inuits and white people.  The story centers around Maki, a young teen girl whose older brother Tsanu gets captured by the Invaders.  Tsanu is her only caretaker, since their parents are gone, and Maki wants to rescue him.  Tsanu agrees to lead the Invader captain to a fabled seventh city of fabulous wealth far to the north, and Maki disguises herself as a boy and takes a job caring for the expedition's horses so she can go along.  

Although Maki starts out focused on freeing her brother and possibly punishing some Invaders in the process, she gets to know some of the expedition's members and gradually makes friends with them.  By the time the story reaches its epic climax, Maki no longer views most of them as her enemies.

It took me over a week to read this book because... it was too tightly wound for my taste, to be honest.  Bad thing after bad thing happens, in quick succession, with too little respite for the characters or the readers.  

I think readers need the tension to ratchet up like a set of stairs, with a little breather here and there to give them a rest.  Those are often the scenes where I get more emotionally invested in the characters, because I don't need to spend all my emotional energy fearing for the characters' lives.  And this book just... had very, very little downtime.  Which made it hard for me to read.  In fact, I did something I have only done maybe twice before in the last twenty years:  I looked at the end.  I checked to see who was going to survive, because I was very, very close to not finishing the book, and I wanted to see if finishing it would be worth it or not.  There came a point where I set it aside a couple of days when I was about 75% done because I was not enjoying the book much.

Aside from that, this was a really well-written book in many other ways.  The characters were engaging and the world building was excellent.  I especially loved Maki's wolf-dog Iki -- he reminded me of my wolf/Malamute crossbreed Westley that we had when I was a teen.  He was my dog, the way Iki is Maki's, and yeah, I really liked their relationship.

I handed this off to my kids when I finished it, and my 12-year-old inhaled it in one day, so clearly, the pacing didn't bother her at all.  YMMV!

Particularly Good Bits:

"I like a good hero-story.  I daresay more men would be men if they took them to heart" (p. 77).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-10 for violence, some of which got a little bloody, and for all that tension and peril.

This has been the 33rd book I've read from my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2022.