Monday, October 31, 2022

Want a Free Book?

I mean, who doesn't want free books, right?  Well, you are in luck!  Because I am offering a free copy of my Sleeping Beauty retelling The Man on the Buckskin Horse to everyone who is signed up for my author newsletter.

If you're already a newsletter subscriber, you should have gotten an email this afternoon with instructions on how and where to access your free copy!

If you're not a newsletter subscriber yet, you can follow this link or use the widget in my blog's sidebar to sign up.  And then you will receive a welcome email with instructions on how to get your free copy.

And that's all there is to it!  Happy reading!

Sunday, October 30, 2022

"Among the Shadows" by L. M. Montgomery

This was just the right thing to read the week before Halloween, for me.  A few slightly spooky stories, some eerie ones, and the rest just with a tinge of darkness around the edges.  I do NOT enjoy horror stories, in print or on the screen, but I trusted Montgomery not to scare me, just give me a little thrill here and there.  And she definitely delivered!

This is a collection of her short stories, and I think I had read at least one of them before, possibly in an e-book collection of a dozen or so of her stories that I read a while ago.  Anyway, the stories I enjoyed most were:

+ "Detected by the Camera" -- an amateur photographer inadvertently solves a crime.

+ "From Out the Silence" -- a woman misses her best friend, who died suddenly after they had a silly quarrel, but learns her friend forgave her after all.

+ "The House Party on Smoky Island" -- a supernatural visitor saves a marriage.

+ "Miss Calista's Peppermint Bottle" -- forgiveness and peppermint extract solve a crime and save a soul.

+ "A Redeeming Sacrifice" -- eavesdropping convinces a bad boy to leave a good girl alone.

+ "The Redemption of John Churchill" -- eavesdropping convinces a pardoned felon that his life can have meaning again.  Absolutely my favorite story here.

(From my Instagram account.)

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 for discussions of killing, death, theft, ghosts, hauntings, and unwed mothers. Not really a book for kids, although there's nothing actually bad here.

This has been my third book read and reviewed for my fourth Classics Club list, and also my 50th book read from my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2022 !!!!

Friday, October 28, 2022

"Prince of Thieves" by Alexandre Dumas

Alexandre Dumas wrote books about Robin Hood?  Say what now? 

Yes, it is true!  In fact, he wrote more than one.  Prince of Thieves is the first, and it's an origin story for Robin Hood.  It's rather different from the usual Robin Hood origin stories you get from authors like Howard Pyle.  Robin Hood here is the son of a nobleman, yes, but he's taken as an infant and given to a forester to raise because his father is dead and there's someone out to get his inheritance, and so on.  Robin grows up happily in the forest (I mean, who wouldn't?) and is in his mid-teens when he starts to have adventures, meets Maid Marian and Little John and Friar Tuck, and so on.

Most of the plot revolves around some friends of his who are trying to get married, but the girl's dad forbids the match and tries to have her intended killed, and there's all manner of skulduggery and mayhem, along with some hijinks.  It's a totally different story from any Robin Hood I've read before, and I had a lot of fun imagining Dumas just chuckling with glee as he came up with it.  It definitely stars the cheerful kind of Robin Hood that I like best.  But it's almost more of an ensemble piece, really.  I assume the sequel, Robin Hood the Outlaw, probably deals more with getting Robin's rightful inheritance back?  We shall see!  It's sitting on my TBR shelves.

Prince of Thieves was first published after Dumas's death.  It has nothing whatever to do with the Kevin Costner movie with the same title, sorry.  The version I read was translated into English by Alfred Allinson, and it has deliberately archaic language, which I'm assuming Dumas also affected, full of prithee and mayest thou and so on.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG.  It has some violence and even killing, but it's totally not gory or scary or even intense.  Still, people do die, sometimes in somewhat distressing ways if you have a vivid imagination, so I wouldn't give it to a kid younger than at least 10.

This is my second book read and reviewed for my fourth Classics Club list and my 49th for #TheUnreadShelfProject2022!

Saturday, October 22, 2022

"Bloodlines" by Jan Burke (again)

Did it take me two weeks to read this book?  Yes, it did.  But not because I wasn't enjoying it or couldn't get into it.  I spent two weeks on Bloodlines because I was savoring it.  I didn't want to rush through it, I wanted to soak in it.  And I did, and it was wonderful.

This is the first Irene Kelly book I ever read, back in 2012, and the one that made me want to read the whole series.  Now, ten years later, I'm finally able to fulfill that desire.  I had started reading the rest of the series, beginning with the first book, after I first read Bloodlines (which is book 9), but the library rudely ditched the series before I'd gotten past book 3.  So, I've slowly been collecting up the series whenever I would find copies at used book stores and thrift stores, etc.  I got the last couple on AbeBooks at the end of last year and set off on my quest to read the whole series in 2022, which I'm calling My Year with Irene Kelly.

A big part of why I love this book is that it starts in 1958, picks up in 1978, then concludes in 2000.  Murders and crimes from the past keep spawning trouble over the decades, and the plotting here is breathtaking.  

But the real reason that I loved it even more this second time through than I did the first time... was that I know who these characters are, now.  And getting to see Irene Kelly's mentor O'Connor active and on the page, both as a kid and an adult... it's so amazing.  You see, O'Connor dies at the very beginning of the first Irene Kelly book.  Like, in the first chapter, IIRC.  And Irene is always referring to him, missing him, thinking about him, and so on.  Which makes the first two-thirds of this book extra, extra good this time.  

None of this rambling tells you what the book is about, though, does it?  Well, it involves kidnapping, murder, long-buried secrets, family, friendship, mentorship, and grave robbing.  It sprawls.  It weaves.  It surprises.  I love it.  I keep trying to sum up the mystery without spoiling it, but I can't seem to manage it, sorry.

I have two books left in the series to read.  And I'm a little worried they won't live up to Bloodlines because I love it so, so much.  But, then again, they might be just as wonderful!  Won't know until I try them.

Particularly Good Bits:

Missing, he thought, meant exactly that -- gone like a piece of you, carved right out of you, missing from you (p. 145).

There is a distance between "should forgive" and "have forgiven" that is sometimes hard to cross (p. 462).

I stared out the window of the Lucky Dragon, watching a steady stream of downtown workers, panhandlers, shoppers, and others walk by.  Each one a little bundle of troubles on legs, determined to make it through the day (p. 569).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: R for violence, language, and off-page sex.

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Book Tour Sign-Ups for "My Rock and My Refuge"

Can you believe that launch day for My Rock and My Refuge is only 2 1/2 weeks away?!?  November 8 is coming up fast!

Yes, my Beauty and the Beast retelling is going to be in your hands soon!  (Unless you're an advance reader -- then you have it already, you lucky duck!)  

This means that it's time to get my online book tour organized.  So, here I am, asking you to join it.

The tour will run from November 7 through November 18, so there are plenty of slots to choose from.  And I'm very open as far as what kinds of tour posts people can contribute.  In fact, the more variety, the merrier!  Book reviews are always good, as are author interviews.  Blog posts, Instagram posts, BookTube videos -- I'm even willing to do live interviews on Instagram, or do a video chat!  If you have a book club and want me to be the guest speaker via Zoom or Skype, I'm here for it.

If you'd like to sign up to host a stop for this tour, please use this form to do so.

Oh, and if you'd like to know more about this book, here's the official cover blurb:

Beauty and the Beast... re-imagined...

Marta knows she shouldn't feel this way toward Mr. Wendell. She needs to keep her job as his servant, especially because her family back in Germany depends on the money she and her brother Jakob send home. Marta's new feelings can't be as important as helping her family save their bakery, can they? 

Marta doesn't want to believe the rumors that Mr. Wendell profited from another's tragedy to gain his wealth. Although his face bears terrible scars, she sees past them to his kind and generous heart. Still, she wonders why he never leaves his big house high in the Colorado mountains. Does he hide himself away because of his disfigured face, or because he has a guilty conscience? 

While Marta tries to push away her questions, others are determined to find answers. Their efforts lead to a fresh tragedy that threatens Marta's hope of finding happiness with Mr. Wendell. Will Marta fail her family and her new friends, or will God bless her efforts to build a happy future for them all?

A few reviews have already gotten shared to Goodreads, including one that says:

Right, then.  Go sign up for the book tour!

Thursday, October 13, 2022

"The Long Goodbye" by Raymond Chandler

I think this is my other favorite Raymond Chandler novel, besides The Lady in the Lake.  I really love the interactions between Philip Marlowe and Terry Lennox.  Stories that revolve around a friendship often end up being favorites for me.  Two guys who might be considered losers by the world, who understand each other but don't pity each other -- no wonder they wound up friends.

Of course, then Terry had to go get himself into an awful lot of trouble and wind up dead.  And Marlowe had to just keep worrying at the edges of the mystery surrounding that trouble, which gets him into plenty of difficulties while he figures things out.  Oh, Marlowe, how I love you.

I last read this book just about ten years ago.  That was the perfect amount of time to help me forget the details, though I did remember there would be a doozy of a plot twist toward the end.  Which I looked forward to with great enthusiasm :-)

Because I'm exactly this sort of weird fangirl, I bought myself a Desert Rose coffee mug, circa the 1940s, while reading this book.  Why?  Because Marlowe mentions using a coffee mug and saucer in this pattern during the book.  I looked online to see if it was a real china patter, and after a bit of amateur sleuthing of my own, I learned this was the style of the coffee mugs in that pattern that were made before the book was written.  And I found one on eBay and bought it:

You may wonder why a hardboiled detective like Philip Marlowe would have a pretty, even somewhat whimsical, china pattern like that... in The Long Goodbye, he's renting a furnished house that belongs to an older woman who has temporarily moved away.  I assume the china is hers.  But he uses it.  So... I bought one.

Particularly Good Bits:

Very methodical guy, Marlowe.  Nothing  must interfere with his coffee technique.  Not even a gun in the hand of a desperate character (p. 28).

He was a guy who talked with commas, like a heavy novel (p. 82).

"I'm a licensed private investigator and have been for quite a while.  I'm a lone wolf, unmarried, getting middle-aged, and not rich.  I've been in jail more than once and I don't do divorce business.  I like liquor and women and chess and a few other things.  The cops don't like me too well, but I know a couple I get along with.  I'm a native son, born in Santa Rosa, both parents dead, no brothers or sisters, and when I get knocked off in a dark alley sometime, if it happens, as it could to anyone in my business, and to plenty of people in any business or no business at all these days, nobody will feel the bottom has dropped out of his or her life" (p. 92).

It was the kind of morning that seems to go on forever.  I was flat and tired and dull and the passing minutes seemed to fall into a void, with a soft whirring sound, like spent rockets (p. 221).

I was as hollow and empty as the spaces between the stars (p. 273).

I went out to the kitchen to make coffee--yards of coffee.  Rich, strong, bitter, boiling hot, ruthless, depraved.  The life-blood of tired men (p. 319) (My personal favorite Raymond Chandler line of all time.)

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-16.  There are plenty of allusions to and discussions of sex, and Marlowe spends the night with a woman, but it's all remarkably tasteful and oblique, not described on-page.  There's also some bad language here and there, plus a LOT of alcohol consumption, several deaths described in not-too-gory detail, and a suicide.  Chandler isn't for kids, but he doesn't write dirty books, either.

This is my first book read and reviewed for my fourth Classics Club list!!!

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Top Ten Tuesday: Vacation Reads

This week, our prompt from That Artsy Reader Girl is "Books I Read On Vacation," and we get bonus points if we include where we were when we read them.

We went on several small vacations and trips this year, and I read a LOT of books while on them.  Here are the ten I liked best!

At a rented cabin in the Shenandoah Valley in February

Borden Chantry by Louis L'Amour (PG) -- western, mystery, lone hero

Son of a Wanted Man by Louis L'Amour (PG) -- western, found family

Stoneheart Hunt by Abby D. Jones, with Martin Brodde (PG-16) -- fantasy/sci-fi, fairy tale retelling, revenge, found family

(All pictures are my own from my bookstagram account)

On the way to and from Florida in March

Dear Irene, by Jan Burke (R) -- mystery

Dragons at Crumbling Castle by Terry Pratchett (PG) -- audio book, short stories, middle-grade fiction, fantasy, humorous

At the beach in June

The Count of Monte Cristo (Manga Classics) by Alexandre Dumas, Crystal S. Chan, and Nokman Poon (PG) -- classic, revenge, manga

On a trip to and from Ohio in July

Hamlet (Manga Classics) by William Shakespeare, Crystal S. Chan, and Julien Choy (PG-13) -- classic, play, full text, revenge, manga

The Light of Western Stars by Zane Grey (PG) -- western, secret marriage romance, strong female character

Visiting my hometown in North Carolina in August

The Cherokee Trail by Louis L'Amour (PG) -- western, strong female character, found family

Great Expectations (Manga Classics) by Charles Dickens, Crystal S. Chan, and Nokman Poon (PG) -- classic, manga, coming of age

I hadn't realized that I read so much Louis L'Amour and so many Manga Classics on vacations this year!  And so many books involving revenges.  Hmm.   I guess I could have figured out the Manga Classics, as I deliberately took those along on trips because I could hand them off to my kids once I'd finished them, and then they would have something new to read besides the books they'd brought themselves.  But I guess I get drawn to L'Amour when I'm traveling.  Huh.

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

"Song of the Valley" by Britt Howard

Y'all know I don't read a lot of romance-centric books.  I read a lot of books that have some romance in them, but that's not the same thing.  Romance-centric means the romance is the central point of the book, and the plot will hinge on it.  Once in a while, a romance-centric book will interest me enough to pick it up.  Usually, only historical fiction romance will catch my interest -- I can think of two modern-day romancey books I've read before.  Both were Christian fiction, like this -- I shy away from secular romance books because I know they're going to be smutty and skanky, and nope.  Not going there.

So.  All of that is really just me explaining how special Song of the Valley is.  Because I not only got interested in this book, even though it's modern-day Christian romance, I signed up to read an ARC of it.  

And friends, this book did not disappoint me.  It promised clean romance, second-chance romance, cowboy romance, and happily ever after... and BOY HOWDY, did it deliver!!!  My goodness, I could have curled up inside this book and stayed for weeks.  You know how getting me to want to be friends with the characters is the way you make me love a book?  Well, I want to be friends with the entire McCade family.  And with their friends.  I am super excited that this says "McCade Family Novel, Book One" because that means I'll get to hang out with all these characters again :-D

Okay, so this book is about Samantha McCade, a recent college graduate who spends her summer back on her family's ranch in Montana.  She wants to work for a nonprofit organization in Europe, so while she sends out query letters and preps for interviews, she volunteers to help do the marketing for a neighbor's summer camp.  Samantha figures that'll be good for her resume.  The only catch is, the summer camp is run by a neighbor she absolutely loathes.  She blames Caleb Kane for her father's death years ago.  She can't stand the man.  Too bad he's super handsome, great with horses and kids, and clearly attracted to her.  Oh, and she used to have a crush on him when she was a teen.  

One thing leads inevitably to the other, and pretty soon Samantha doesn't hate Caleb anymore, and then Samantha and Caleb kiss secretly, and then Samantha's awesome cowboy brothers find out about them kissing secretly... and then Samantha lands an interview for her dream job in Italy.  But everything gets wrapped up beautifully, I promise :-)

Oh, and I know just enough about horses to be happy with all the horse-riding and horse-care discussed in the book, because it was all good and right and accurate.  Yay!  I love it when that happens.

One of my favorite things about this book is how it explores how difficult it can be to decide between two good options.  Sometimes, that can be a lot harder than making a choice between a good and a bad option, or deciding which one is good and which is bad.  I'm actually exploring that a tiny bit in my current WIP too, because it's something we do experience in life, but I don't see it discussed all that often in Christian fiction.  It excited me to find it here too!

I should mention that I did receive an advance copy of this book from the publisher, but I was not asked or required to provide a review of it.  All opinions are my own truthful thoughts on this book.

Particularly Good Bits:

I laughed until my stomach ached, and my heart hurt for the family that we used to be.

I was already itching for city life, with the constant noise, coffee shops on every corner, and shopping malls.  A person didn't have to think so much in the city.

I didn't want to be that girl anymore though.  The one who naively thought that no harm would ever come to her loved ones.

By the time the autumn colors washed over Cascade Valley, I would be on a journey to womanhood that seemed like a river with no end, endless possibilities stretching vast and wild before me.

"But it's easy to get so caught up in searching for the extraordinary that you miss the beauty of the ordinary gifts right in front of you."

"All good things come from you, don't they, Lord?  But what if there are too many good things to choose from? What do I do then?"

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG for on-page kissing and explorations of grief and anger.  No cussing, no violence, no sex.  Not even off-page, fade-to-black sex.  Utterly clean.  

Also, this is a bit random, but I kept imagining Caleb Kane looked like Clint Walker, and so now I'm just watching Clint Walker movies and shows whenever I get a chance.  Good thing I own all the seasons of Cheyenne...

(Caleb Kane has a beard, though.  I've seen Clint Walker with a beard,
but the internet is loathe to provide me with a picture of him with a beard,
so you just have to have this one instead.)

Saturday, October 1, 2022

"The Murder of Mr. Wickham" by Claudia Gray

Well, I did read the whole book, which I kind of thought I wouldn't at one point.  And I'm glad I did, because the ending was reasonably satisfying.

The Murder of Mr. Wickham has a fun and clever premise: the characters from Jane Austen's six major novels are all related or know each other somehow.  George and Emma Knightley host a house party at Donwell Abbey to introduce Juliet Tilney, daughter of Emma's friends Henry and Catherine Tilney, to good society.  They invite Captain and Anne Wentworth, Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth Darcy and their son Jonathon, Christopher and Marianne Brandon, and Edmund and Fanny Bertram.  Mr. Wickham invites himself.

It turns out that Mr. Wickham has swindled several of these characters out of quite a bit of money.  Other characters have their own reasons to despise or loathe him.  And someone kills him, eventually.  Juliet Tilney and Jonathan Darcy team up to help the local magistrate, Frank Churchill, figure out whodunit.  

I really liked certain aspects of this book.  Jonathan Darcy is a high-functioning autistic person, maybe with Asperger's?  He's neurodivergent, anyway, and I thought he was portrayed very realistically and kindly.  I also liked how a lot of the characters interacted, because I also have fun imagining characters from different stories or even different authors interacting with each other.  So those aspects were great.

But, about halfway through the novel, it's revealed that Fanny's brother William is gay.  And, while homosexual activity dates back at least to the time of Abraham, and I am well aware that there undoubtedly were gay men in the Royal Navy in the early 1800s, this felt very much shoehorned into the story.  Fanny's keeping a secret about her brother is a plot point, but the secret could have been just about anything -- he could have deserted, mutinied (like the brother in North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell), stolen something -- his secret isn't super important, just that fact that it exists.  So, making it this specific secret felt very much like pandering to the Woke mob that insists a book has to have LGBTQ+ rep in order to have worth.  It felt very much like Gray was smugly saying, "See?  I checked off that box, aren't you glad?"  

It wasn't good writing, in other words.  It pulled me straight out of the story, repeatedly, with its jarring modernity in regards to how both Fanny and Edmund reacted to it.  Fanny in particular wasn't accurate to the attitudes and social mores of the era, much less to the character from Austen's book, and I ended up skimming the rest of the book because I just couldn't get back into it properly.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-16 for some not-very-detailed discussions of marital bedroom activities, an attempted seduction, and descriptions of a murder victim's body.  There wasn't any bad language, though.