Sunday, December 31, 2023

"The Hart of Christmas" by Latisha Sexton

I started reading The Hart of Christmas before Christmas and set it aside because I just wasn't in the mood for a romantic comedy.  Picked it up again (well, pulled it up again, as I was reading the ebook version on my phone) a couple of days after Christmas and finished it off in two days.  Mood reading do be that way sometimes, heh.

This is a cute Christmas romance set in the mountains of Tennessee (so just a hop, skip, and jump away from where I grew up in the foothills of North Carolina).  Millie Jane's music career hasn't taken off, and her best friend back home has offered her house to Millie for Christmas because said best friend and her husband will be out of town.  But when Millie Jane gets there, she discovers that her best friend's stepbrother is also staying at that house, laid up with a broken leg.

That stepbrother is a hotshot hockey player named Dex... who happens to have been Millie Jane's dream guy in high school until he broke her heart.  Dex asked to stay there right after Millie's best friend offered the place to her, and they figured Millie would go stay with her grandma instead, except a blizzard hits before she can leave, which means Forced Proximity Romance, here we come.

I actually don't like forced proximity romance much, which is part of why I set this book aside for a while.  If done juuuuuuuuuust specifically right, I will be okay with it, but if the "forced" part feels like the characters could really get out of it if they wanted to, I will back off.  The blizzard makes it work, because I have driven the Blue Ridge Mountains in the winter and you do NOT mess around on winter mountain roads.  Unplowed roads can equal death.  Frozen roads can equal death.  So, I accepted that this really was an inescapable situation, but kind of grudgingly.

Once I decided to accept that, I liked the book a lot.  Millie Jane was really sweet, and she did a LOT of great character growth over the course of the book.  This was aided by flashback chapters showing how she and Dex met and almost kinda sorta had a high school romance, and what went wrong between them years ago.  

But I never did like Dex.  Cocky and arrogant guys with a high opinion of their own worth tend to grate on me, and Dex very much was all of that and then some.  Dude could not stop smirking.  Worse yet, he teased Millie All The Time.  I don't like people who tease constantly.  Even worse, he called her by a nickname she hated, and he knew she hated it, and so I was annoyed with him every time he used it.  (Just by the way, I hate the nickname 'Rach' when used by anyone except my Grandma Haack [who is dead], one friend from high school, and my German professor from college.  If you are not one of those three select people, do not call me Rach.  Call me Rachel or Hamlette or Ray, okay?)  

It is okay to have a book romance where I don't actually love both halves of the couple, as long as they genuinely work together in and of themselves.  Which Millie and Dex do.  So I can be cool with their romance, but if I knew them in real life, they would be one of those couples where I just hang out with the wife and we don't invite them to our house as a couple because I'm going to be on edge all the time.  (Actually, I don't know any couples like that right now, but I did in college.)  So... was this a fun Christmasy romance?  Yup.  Is it one I will reread routinely?  Probably not.  However, if you are a fan of clean, Christian contemporary romance books, you will probably dig this a lot!  But it's a genre I only dip into a few times a year.

Particularly Good Bits:

But the sad, lifeless trees bear a startling resemblance to my own empty heart.

I've never understood the whole follow your heart thing.  My heart doesn't know what it wants half the time.  How am I supposed to follow it?  Not to mention that the Bible says the heart is deceitful above all things.

"Millie, we live in a fallen world.  No one is perfect.  We will hurt one another.  The important thing is that we come clean when we do and that we learn to forgive one another."

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 for discussions of a man admiring a woman and trying not to imagine her in her bathing suit, mild and flirtatious innuendo in dialog, and quite a bit of kissing.  Nothing I felt uncomfortable reading myself, but not something I would let my tween daughter read, either.  No cussing or violence, and no smut or spice -- not even a "closed door" or "fade to black" love scene.

This has been my 59th book read off my TBR list for #TheUnreadShelfProject2023.

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

"Classic Christmas Crime Stories" ed. by David Stuart Davies

There's something about the bustle and chaos of the lead-up to Christmas that makes me crave the restoration of order that a good mystery provides.  This collection of festive mysteries and other crime stories was just what I wanted to read in the middle of December!

There are eleven short stories here, ranging from very familiar Christmas mysteries like "The Blue Carbuncle" by A. Conan Doyle to story featuring the characters from the BBC show Rosemary and Thyme.  I enjoyed nearly all of the stories ("The Case of the Seven Santas" by H. R. F. Keating got really tedious after a while, for me).  My favorites, in the order in which they appear, were:

  • "The Blue Carbuncle" by A. Conan Doyle (already one of my absolute favorite Sherlock Holmes short stories)

  • "The Case of the Dead Wait" by Peter Lovesey

  • "Markheim" by Robert Louis Stevenson

  • "Death on the Air" by Ngaio Marsh

  • "Stuffing" by Edgar Wallace

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 for murder, bloodshed, poisonings, a smattering of bad language here and there, and occasional hints at lascivious behavior.

This is my 58th book read off my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2023.

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Top Ten Tuesday: Additionally

This week's Top Ten Tuesday prompt from That Artsy Reader Girl is "The Ten Most Recent Additions to My Bookshelf."  I received five books for Christmas, won one in a giveaway, and bought the others myself over the past couple of months.  Behold!

The Bookish Bandit by Erica Dansereau and Britt Howard (Christian contemporary romance involving book publishing)

A Cranberry Christmas by Wende and Harry Devlin (festive picture book I loved as a kid)

A Cranberry Thanksgiving by Wende and Harry Devlin (festive picture book I also loved as a kid)

The Hart of Christmas by Latisha Sexton (Christian contemporary Christmas romance)

The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien, specifically the 50th Anniversary edition from Unwin Paperbacks (classic fantasy adventure)

Kling Klang Gloria by Jenni Sauer (sci-fi fairy tale retelling)

The Mistletoe Countess by Pepper Basham (historical fiction mystery romance)

Persuasion by Jane Austen, specifically the Winchester Austen edition from Worth Press Ltd. (classic novel of second chances and self-discovery)

Through Thorny Ways by Jennifer Q. Hunt (Christian historical fiction set just after WWI)

The Weight of Air by Kimberly Duffy (Christian historical fiction involving a circus)

That's my list for this week.  Did you get books for Christmas?  Or give some?  I did give a handful as gifts, as well as receiving some.

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

"Big Red" by Jim Kjelgaard

You know what I love about Jim Kjelgaard's books?  The dogs in them don't die at the end.  That shouldn't be a revolutionary concept, and yet, it sure seems to be.  So many dog books broke my heart when I was a kid, and then I discovered Kjelgaard, and he became my hero.  I read every book of his that my library had on their shelves.  I asked for them for Christmas.  I bought them at yard sales.  I still buy them at used book stores.  I actually haven't looked up how many books he wrote, I just keep finding another every few years.

Big Red is his most famous book, and it's quite the delight.  A poor Canadian mountain boy (EDIT: or possibly, Pennsylvanian???) who loves dogs gets to take care of his rich neighbor's prize Irish Setter, and he grows up a lot in the process.  There's lots of stuff about how to train a dog, how to survive in the woods, and how to win a dog show, which is all very wonderful.  But the part I remember best from when I was a kid, and the part I couldn't wait to get to when I was reading this aloud to my own kids this fall, was the part where a wolverine comes down the chimney.  

I am not making this up.  A wolverine comes down the chimney and tries to kill the boy and the dog.  It's so terrifying and horrible and thrilling.  And, of course, the boy is basically unarmed and has to survive with his wits and almost no weapons of any sort.  Because that is the kind of book I loved when I was a teenage girl!

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-10 because man, that wolverine is scary!  Also, there's a smattering of mild cuss words.  Also, there's a big, mean bear.  

Saturday, December 16, 2023

"The L. M. Montgomery Christmas Collection"

I love L. M. Montgomery's writing, and I love Christmas, so I am naturally drawn to her festive stories and poetry.  The Christmas with Anne collection is one of my favorite Christmastime reads, so I am excited to add this new collection to my shelf.  It does have some overlap with that other volume -- both contain the "Matthew Insists on Puffed Sleeves" from Anne of Green Gables, as well as several of the same short stories.  This collection has a couple of different Anne chapters too, and six Christmas/winter poems that are paired with appropriate classic paintings.  There are paintings to go with the short stories and Anne chapters as well, and I love all the thought that obviously went into the pairings.

I bought the paperback edition of this book, but I wish I had gotten the hardcover instead.  I see there is now a pocket-sized hardcover edition available, as well as the full-sized one, and I might get that for myself and put this paperback copy into my kids' box of Christmas books that we haul out every year.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: G.  It's everything sweet, wholesome, and lovely.

This is my 57th book read from my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2023.

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Top Ten Tuesday: Reading in a Winter Wonderland

Today's Top Ten Tuesday prompt from That Artsy Reader Girl is "Books On My Winter 2023-24 TBR List."  So, here are ten books from my to-read shelves that I would like to read by the end of February, 2024:

  • Best Shot in the West: The Adventures of Nat Love by Patricial C. McKissack and Fredrick L. McKissack Jr. (graphic novel biography)

  • Bluebird on the Prairie by Tasha Hackett (Christian historical fiction)

  • The Bookish Bandit by Erica Dansereau and Britt Howard (Christian contemporary romance)

  • Kling Klang Gloria by Jenni Sauer (cozy sci-fi)

  • The Legend of Bass Reeves by Gary Paulsen (middle grade biography)

  • The Mistletoe Countess by Pepper Basham (Christian historical Christmas fiction)

  • The Sackett Brand by Louis L'Amour (western)

  • The Sky-Liners by Louis L'Amour (western)

  • The Vanderbeekers Ever After by Karina Yan Glaser (middle grade contemporary)

  • The Weight of Air by Kimberly Duffy (Christian historical fiction)

Have you read any of these?  Any of them pique your interest?  What books are you looking forward to reading this winter?

Sunday, December 10, 2023

"A Little Persuaded" by Kendra E. Ardnek

I was hesitant about this final volume of the Austen Fairy Tales by Kendra E. Ardnek.  Persuasion is my favorite Jane Austen novel, but this book is blending it with "The Little Mermaid," and that is not a fairy tale I tend to love, at least not most retellings of it.  In fact, I actively dislike the Disney version.

Happily, Ardnek made the two stories and sets of characters work together really nicely.  Enna, her Anne Elliot/Little Mermaid character, was as retiring, thoughtful, and wise as Anne Elliot, but with some of the longings and disappointed hopes of Hans Christian Andersen's original Little Mermaid.

It was great getting to see lots of characters from earlier books in this series, especially since this is their last adventure.  I would have liked a little more resolution at the end, which is mostly a personal issue -- I love resolution, and books/stories with more open endings tend not to be my favorites.  Still, I feel like all the characters I have come to care about have a good chance at a happy and safe future, so I am pleased.

Particularly Good Bits:

Enna was used to people talking about her as though she wasn't there.  She wasn't used to being defended (p. 34).

"Austere alone knows the future, but we can prepare for it as best we can " (p. 104).

"Focus, Enna," she whispered to herself. "Thinking about how much there is to think about isn't going to help at all" (p. 189).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: G.  No real violence to speak of, no cussing, no smut.

This has been my 56th book read from my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2023.

Friday, December 8, 2023

"Noel Streatfeild's Christmas Stories" by Noel Streatfeild

This is EXACTLY the sort of book I want to read at Christmastime!  Heartwarming, sweet, uplifting short stories featuring realistic people in realistic situations that are treated with humor and kindness.  

My favorite stories were:

"The Moss Rose," about a young skater who loses her costume and skates on the subway, but it all turns out okay.

+ "The Princess," about a princess who goes shoe-shopping and gets shanghaied into performing in a ballet incognito.

"The Chain," about a boy who imagines that all of his favorite fictional characters form a chain of joy that helps his sister get well enough to come home from the hospital for Christmas.

"Christmas at Collers," about some city kids who are forced to spend Christmas in the country with their ailing grandmother and discover that hustle and bustle are not essential elements for a merry Christmas.

I absolutely loved this collection!

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  G.  As wholesome and uplifting as they come.

This is my 22nd book read and reviewed for my 4th Classics Club list, and my 55th book read off my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2023.

Tuesday, December 5, 2023

"Meant to Bee" by Storm Shultz

This is the sweetest rom-com kind of book I have read in a long time.  Yet it also has a lot of serious and meaningful things going on!  I think that's what makes it so delightful.

Single mom Cordy spends everything she has on a cute little cottage in a small English village, sight unseen.  When she and her toddler arrive there, that cottage turns out to be full of leaks, creaks, and grime.  But Cordy has nowhere else to go, so she rolls up her sleeves, blows her nose and dries her eyes, and gets to work figuring out how to make a life there for herself and her daughter.

Enter a surprise delivery of beehives.  And Ronan, a young man who's only in town for a few days to convince his younger brother to go back to veterinary school.  And an older gentleman with lots of advice on how to care for bees.  Next thing you know, Cordy and Ronan have the house fixed up, and Cordy has opened a small shop in her front room.  She sells honey and baked goods and cute gifts, and she manages to make enough to keep herself and her daughter fed and clothed and housed.

And then, her ex shows up.  The father of her child who had no interest in their baby's existence until now.  Oh, and he has the power to shut down Cordy's shop.

But it all turns out okay!

I really love books about setting up a store and managing a store, as well as books about fixing up a house and decorating it and getting settled.  So that whole aspect of the book really drew me in.  But what I loved best about this book was how Cordy's friends encouraged her to look outside herself for help.  There's a wonderful discussion of why Cordy doesn't attend worship services that doesn't dismiss her struggles or her reasons why she hasn't attended services in a long time, but also doesn't brush off attending worship services as unnecessary if someone doesn't "feel like it."  That is a really important conversation within the book, but also one that resonated with me.  This line hit me especially strongly:

"People shouldn't keep you away from God.  People may be rude from time to time, and there are some in the church who can be unkind, but those people do not represent Christ."

I lost a friend in recent years who felt insulted by something someone in our congregation said to her, and she decided that meant she wasn't welcome in our church anymore.  I'm not even sure who said it, or if they meant it as an insult, but that's how she took it, and I wish so hard I could have read this book a couple of years ago (except it hadn't been written yet when all that went down) because maybe I could have quoted that line up there to her, and maybe it would have helped.

Anyway, this is a really enjoyable book, and quite funny!

(More) Particularly Good Bits:

"Forgiving him doesn't mean you drop all your boundaries.  Just because you forgive someone, doesn't mean you let them back to do the same thing they did before."

"I knew that his not liking French fries was a sign."

"Falling in love is easy, but sometimes you have to choose to love someone.  Not all the time, because if you have to choose all the time that's forcing it, but in the hard moments.  In the 'we have no money' moments or the 'someone is trying to pull us apart' moments, that's when you choose to love, and Malcolm didn't."

I generally prefer life without spectators.

"You make everything feel like home."

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 for discussions of unwed motherhood and some kissing.  No smut, no cussing, not much violence (someone does get punched in the face...).

This is my 54th book read for #TheUnreadShelfProject2023.

Sunday, November 26, 2023

"By the Great Horn Spoon!" by Sid Fleischman

Way back when I was ten or so, By the Great Horn Spoon! was the first Sid Fleischman book I ever encountered.  My mom read it aloud to my brother and I, and we laughed and laughed and laughed over it.  (My brother and I also picked up using "Blast!" like an expletive, like a ship's captain does in this book, which our mom eventually got very tired of.  I still say it when something goes wrong, thirty-some years later.  Very handy word, really.)

A few years ago, I read this aloud to my own kids.  We also laughed a lot over it.  I reread it again this week because I'm using it in a literature class for 3rd-5th grades that I'm teaching at our homeschool-coop.  And I laughed again.  What a rollicking good adventure this is!

Twelve-year-old Jack and his family's butler, Praiseworthy, stow away on a ship headed for the California gold fields.  The Gold Rush of 1849 is on, and our heroes are anxious to make their fortunes in gold, not because they want to be rich, but so they can save Jack's Aunt Arabella from losing her home.  Aunt Arabella has raised Jack and his sisters, who are orphans, and Jack can't bear the thought of her losing the house that has sheltered them all for so long.  Praiseworthy would do anything to help Aunt Arabella too, so the plucky heroes are off to make a fortune for her.  

Along the way, they encounter an array of peculiar and hilarious characters, from an irascible and competitive ship's captain to a gold miner who mixes his coffee beans with ground up acorns.  It's a tall tale in the grand tradition of American storytelling, and I love it very much.  It not only made me laugh aloud while reading it over again this week, it even made me get tears in my eyes when I hit the very last three lines.  Wonderful stuff.

Particularly Good Bits:

The stagecoach climbed as if it were part mountain goat.  It lurched, it halted, it bucked, it leaped, and it clung (p. 110).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG.  There's no bad language, but there's a bit of violence involving a boxing match, a scene where a man is nearly lynched, a stagecoach robbery, and several times when the main characters are in great peril.  Nothing actually bad really happens to them, ever, but very young readers might worry a lot about them at times.

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

The Black Friday Indie Book Sale!

This weekend, I have marked down the Kindle editions of all four of my Once Upon a Western novels to $0.99 for Black Friday, and that sale will last through Cyber Monday!  My e-book editions are usually $2.99-$3.99, so this means you could theoretically get all four of them for less than just one Kindle copy of My Rock and My Refuge.

Not only that, but my books are part of the massive annual Black Friday Indie Book Sale hosted by author Perry Kirkpatrick, which includes more than 500 ebooks all priced under a $1.  Check out her website to browse the complete list of books that are included in this sale, and start reading some great books this weekend!

Here are direct links to each of my Kindle books that are on sale on Amazon, just to make life easier for you:

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

"Murder at the Royal Botanic Gardens" by Andrea Penrose

Another wonderful entry into what is fast becoming a favorite mystery series for me!  These Wrexford and Sloane Historical Mysteries are absolutely delightful.  So far, not a single one has disappointed me.  In an age when so many mainstream books are better suited to the recycling bin than my bookshelf, Andrea Penrose is a beacon of hope for me.  These books are fun, intelligent, character-oriented mysteries that provide plenty of sparkage between the main characters, but never slide into smut.  At least, not so far!  I am so happy I can wholeheartedly recommend these to my friends who also love mysteries and historical fiction.

In Murder at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Wrex and Charlotte find their friends and acquaintances slowly drawn into a net of deceit, murder, and greed, and catching up with the bad guys behind the mayhem takes the combined force not only of their own sleuthing talents, but the varied talents of all their friends, too.  All that, while also trying to plan their wedding!

Penrose likes to weave elements of actual scientific history into the plots of this series, and I always learn something from these books!  This one has lots of interesting things about botany and medicine in it.

Particularly Good Bits:

Murder's grim shadow, she reminded herself, could smother every spark of light if one wasn't careful.  Evil must not be allowed to extinguish all that was good in the world (p. 218).

His sense of humor was yet another thing she loved about him.  Without laughter to counter the injustices and absurdities of the world, life could so easily crush one's spirit (p. 237).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 for murder, violence, poison, and some very mild innuendos.

Friday, November 3, 2023

"The Woman in White" by Wilkie Collins

I have put off writing this review for almost two weeks now.  Which, I suppose, tells you a lot right there, doesn't it.

I really enjoyed The Moonstone when I read that a couple years ago.  And I've read some short stories by Wilkie Collins that were fun, so I expected to enjoy The Woman in White too.  I wanted to enjoy it.  I tried to enjoy it.

But oh my goodness, did I ever have to push my way through this book.  I did want to know how it all ended, so I kept with it, but it was a struggle.  Mostly because I did not particularly like any of the characters.  They weren't people I'd want to hang out with in real life, so I didn't want to hang out with them in their fictional world.

I am glad I finished the book, but it's not one I'll reread.  Too much slogging for too little payoff.

The basic plot is that a young man encounters a strange woman dressed all in white one night on the outskirts of London.  She is on the run from someone, she gives him some dire warnings, and she disappears.  The young man takes a new job as a private art tutor for a young lady at her family's country estate, and it turns out that the woman in white was someone this young lady used to know.  And then people fall in love, and there's an arranged marriage to mess everything up, and everyone is super unhappy for most of the book.  And, by the end, they are only kinda sorta on the way to maybe one day being less unhappy, which was just not fun, y'all.

Particularly Good Bits:  

The days passed on, the weeks passed on; and the track of the golden autumn wound its bright way visibly through the green summer of the trees (p. 54).

If only I had the privileges of a man, I would order out Sir Percival's best horse instantly, and tear away on a night-gallop, eastward, to meet the rising sun -- a long, hard, heavy, ceaseless gallop of hours and hours, like the famous highwayman's ride to York.  Being, however, nothing but a woman, condemned to patience, propriety, and petticoats, for life, I must respect the housekeeper's opinions, and try to compose myself in some feeble and feminine way (p. 164).

Any woman who is sure of her own wits, is a match, at any time, for a man who is not sure of his own temper (p. 256).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG for spousal abuse, both verbal and emotional.  

This is my 21st book read and reviewed for my fourth Classics Club list, my 53rd for #TheUnreadShelfProjec2023, and my third read and reviewed for #AMonthOfMystery this year.

Friday, October 27, 2023

"And Then There Were None" by Agatha Christie

Oh. My.

I picked this up in an airport bookstore on the way home from visiting my parents earlier this month.  I really was in the mood for a mystery, but hadn't brought any with me, and this seemed like a perfect read for October, especially since I have been participating in the #AMonthOfMystery challenge on Instagram again this year.

What a wild ride this book is!  I almost don't want to say too much about it because I didn't really know anything about the plot before reading it, and that was a perfect way to go into this book.  All I knew was that it was a group of strangers who are on an island together, and then people start dying.  Which sounded kind of like the movie Clue (1985), and I am pretty sure the makers of that movie were referencing this book in several places -- I will have to rewatch it to be sure, though.

Anyway!  This book is thoroughly shocking, in the sense of making me think, "Holy cow, THAT happened?!?" over and over and over.  I read it in a day and a half.  Brilliant stuff -- I can see why it is generally considered one of Christie's absolute best.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-16 for some pretty violent and gruesome murders.

This has been my 20th book read and reviewed for my fourth Classics Club list, my 52nd book read from my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2023, and my second read and reviewed for #AMonthOfMystery this year.

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

And then this happened...

My Rock and My Refuge has won another award!  This time, it has been named the second place winner of the 2023 PenCraft Award for Literary Excellence in the Christian Historical Fiction category!

I am endlessly grateful to God for giving me the ability, tenacity, and opportunity to write books and share them with others. He has blessed my efforts so much. To God be the glory!

If you haven't read My Rock and My Refuge yet, but you love historical fiction, fairy tale retellings, Christian fiction, and/or very clean and gentle romance, I think you might like this book ;-)  It's a Beauty and the Beast retelling set in an 1870s Colorado silver mining town. If you have read it, please leave a review for it somewhere! GoodreadsAmazonB&NNorthwestern Publishing House, wherever. Even just a star rating or a simple "I enjoyed this book" is always a plus!

Sunday, October 22, 2023

"The Ferguson Rifle" by Louis L'Amour

I decided to read this because it had Chantrys in it, and I had just reread Borden Chantry, which remains my favorite L'Amour book.  While I didn't love The Ferguson Rifle as much as Borden Chantry, it was still a very enjoyable read!

This one is set in the very early 1800s -- Lewis and Clark get mentioned as being contemporaries of the characters, so that tells you about what era this would be.  Ronan Chantry lost his wife and son in a terrible fire, and is a broken and haunted man.  Armed with a Ferguson rifle, an early sort of repeating rifle, he heads out into the wilderness to find... something.  Peace?  Himself?  Death?  He isn't sure.

Ronan takes up with some fur trappers, and they make plans to work together in the mountains.  But they run into Spanish soldiers who don't know about the Louisiana Purchase and think that the trappers are trespassers.  Then they run afoul of some Ute warriors.  And then, they rescue a woman and boy who were being pursued by various baddies because the woman might know where an ancient treasure is.  Then the whole book turns into a treasure hunt, which was a lot of fun.

Particularly Good Bits:

As long as one travels toward a promised land, the dream is there, to stop means to face the reality, and it is easier to dream than to realize the dream (p. 17).

"A man is born beside the road to death.  To die is not so much, it is inevitable.  The journey is what matters, and what one does along the way" (p. 99).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG for violence and some mild cussing.

This is my 52nd book read off my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfChallenge2023.

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

"Death of a Christmas Tree Salesman" by Patricia Meredith

Yes, I know it's not even Halloween yet.  But, as someone who keeps Christmas in her heart the whole year 'round like Ebenezer Scrooge, I snuggled right up to read this book even though it's not the Christmas season yet!  In fact, I had such a great time immersing myself in all things Christmas while reading this book, that coming back to the real world and having to think about things like Halloween costumes for my kids was always a bit disorienting whenever I stopped reading.

Anyway, Death of a Christmas Tree Salesman is a pretty jolly book, even though it does involve murders.  The main character is a snowman named Sam Shovel, and if that fact combined with the cheeky book title doesn't clue you in to the kind of festive, referential fun this book contains, probably nothing will.  References to classic mystery books and characters abound, from Sam Shovel (think of Sam Spade) to Nick and Nora Claus (instead of Nick and Nora Charles).  And references to Christmas carols and poems pop up everywhere, as well as innumerable iterations of Santa Claus from around the world.

I absolutely loved how Meredith created a Santa network, with international Santas like Egypt's Baba Noel, Germany's Der Weihnachtsmann, Russia's Ded Moroz, Italy's Babbo Natale, and China's Sheng Dan Lao Ren all being distinct people who work together with Nick Claus to spread Christmas presents and joy around the world.  That was so clever, and it created a natural way to include all kinds of different Christmas traditions and treats in the story.

The mystery revolves around the mysterious death of Mr. O. Tannenbaum, owner of the North Pole's Christmas tree farm.  Sam Shovel and an Icelandic "Yule Lad" named Kertasnikir (secretary to the now deceased Tannenbaum) set out to find the culprit, which is a bit difficult since Kertas spends most of his time trying to quell his urge to eat candles and Sam Shovel's memory is pretty bad since he's a snowman.  But they persevere and eventually do find the killer.

I am not ordinarily a big fan of cozy mysteries, as they can often be too cutesy for my taste.  I prefer hard-boiled mysteries where murder is shown to be the abomination it is.  BUT I make an exception for Christmas mysteries, which can be as cozy and cute as they please, and still not annoy me.  This particular book was such a delicious confection of Christmas-y elements that there was no way I wouldn't enjoy it!  In fact, I suspect it's a book I'll reread in Christmastimes to come.

By the way, if you're starting to think of books you want to read during the Christmas season, I have a page called Christmas Reads where I link to all my reviews of Christmas books on this blog.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.  I was not required to provide a review of it, positive or otherwise. 

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for dealing with poison and murder.  No cussing or smut or on-page scenes of violence except someone throwing things at a snowman from time to time.

This is the 51st book read from my TBR collection for #TheUnreadShelfProject2023 and my first read and reviewed for #AMonthOfMystery this year.

Sunday, October 15, 2023

"A Right to Die" by Rex Stout

This is one of the best fiction books I have read that concerns the Civil Rights Movement and was actually written during the 1960s. 

A father asks Nero Wolfe to investigate his son's fiancee because he is sure there must be something wrong with her or her past, and that his son needs to be aware of it.  The father and son are black, and the fiancee is white, and it's 1964 -- the father is sure that either this girl has ulterior motives for wanting to marry a black man, or she is simply toying with his son's affections.

Wolfe ordinarily doesn't touch things involving digging up dirt on spouses, even potential spouses, but he owes the father a debt of sorts, so he sends Archie Goodwin to dig around in the girl's Midwestern hometown.  Before Archie returns, the case takes a sinister turn, and suddenly they're trying to prove someone is innocent of murder by catching the real murderer.

What made this book noteworthy, in my opinion, is Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin's straightforward attitude toward race.  They admit that, as white people they can't understand fully what life is like for black people, just as the black people they are working for and with can't fully understand what life is like for them.  But they do their best to treat everyone they encounter with equal dignity and seriousness.  As Archie puts it at one point, "...when I consider myself superior to anyone, as I frequently do, I need a better reason than his skin" (p. 56).  

I'd be interested to know how this book was received when it was released because it strikes me as something that could have ruffled some readers' feathers.  Wolfe and Archie are both of the opinion that interracial marriage is fine, for instance.  They are both working for a black man.  There are black characters who are nice, who are annoying, who are helpful, who are dodgy, who are trustworthy, who are proud, who are ugly, who are beautiful -- as complex and varied as any cast of white characters in his other books.  Stout is clearly saying that differences of appearance, habit, style, manners, or upbringing are all external things and don't matter.  What matter are a person's values, morals, and attitudes.

The mystery here is one of Stout's best, I think.  This is going high on my list of favorite Nero Wolfe books.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 for discussions of unmarried people sharing an apartment and a bed, though everything is handled delicately.  Suicide plays a central role in the plot, also.  Some mild cussing and reasonably tasteful descriptions of murder.

This is my 50th book read from my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2023.

Sunday, October 1, 2023

"Peter Duck" by Arthur Ransome

This book has a very unusual premise:  it is a fictional story written all together by the (also fictional) characters of Swallows and Amazons and Swallowdale.  It's a story that they made up together that stars themselves, but also a bunch of people they made up, like Peter Duck himself.  Got that straight, now?  If not, don't fret -- it took us a little while to get our minds wrapped around it too.  But we did, eventually!  

I read this aloud to my kids over the summer, though we got sidetracked for a bit and just finished it up toward the end of September.  It's a jolly good treasure-hunting yarn, and was such fun to experience alongside my kids.

Within the story, the four Swallows and two Amazons, plus Captain Flint (aka Uncle Jim) are all set to go on a summertime sailing adventure around Britain.  But when they invite an old seafaring gentleman named Peter Duck to go along, they soon find themselves being chased all over by Black Jake and his foul crew of miscreants, who are convinced Peter Duck knows where there's a fabulous treasure hidden over in the Caribbean on a deserted island.

Well, naturally, they all end up sailing across the Atlantic Ocean to find that treasure and get it before Black Jake can.  Many adventures befall them, especially once they reach the island and go looking for the treasure that Peter Duck did indeed see buried there when he was a boy.

If you like wholesome stories about kids having adventures and learning new skills alongside some trusted but adventurous adults, you need to read this series!

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for some fairly intense parts involving natural disasters and big storms, and also a hand-to-hand fight with pirates.  No cussing or inappropriate content.

This is my 19th book read for my fourth Classics Club list, and my 49th from my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2023.

Thursday, September 28, 2023

"Of Fire and Ash" by Gillian Bronte Adams

Of Fire and Ash
is my teenage daughter's favorite book right now.  She's eagerly awaiting the next book in the series, Of Sea and Smoke, which launches in just under two months.  And she wants to dress as the main character from this one, Ceredwin, for Halloween this year.  So, when Gillian Bronte Adams announced a read-along of this book on Instagram, I decided to participate because I knew it would make my daughter really happy if I read it.  And, it did!  She had such a great time discussing it with me as we read -- she reread it during the read-along too.

I can see why my daughter loves this book.  Ceredwin is a fierce, opinionated young woman and a mighty warrior.  The book has nonstop excitement, lots of fighting and angst, and not really any romance.  There are funny characters, sad characters, and lots of very brave characters.  Also, some dastardly villains.  If I had read this before she did, I might have asked her to wait a couple years before reading it, as there are some torture scenes that I might have thought were a little more than she could handle, though she doesn't seem to be bothered by them at all, as it turns out.

But this was not really a book I enjoyed.  I appreciated many aspects of it, yes.  The characters were excellent, and they were why I kept reading, because I wanted to find out what happened to them.  But I did not like the pacing of the story -- I actually set the book aside many times because of the pacing.  There are three different stories happening simultaneously, each with its own main character, and the book would spend a couple of chapters with one character in their storyline, then hop abruptly to another right when I was getting invested in what was happening.  Often, I would just put the book down and go do something else because the cord of my interest had been severed.

Also, the pacing suffered from something I have noticed in a few other modern books lately:  lack of rest for the readers.  When you have an adventure tale, in particular, every time you have a big high point of action, your audience needs some rest after it, just like your characters.  Think about The Lord of the Rings, how after being chased by Black Riders, the hobbits and audience get to rest in Bree.  Then, after the attack at Weathertop, we get rest in Rivendell.  After the ordeal in Moria, we rest in Lothlorien.  And so it goes, throughout the whole saga -- the audience gets to catch their breath along with the characters.  If you don't let them rest, they will set your story aside to find rest away from it -- but there seems to be this thinking in today's writers that you have to keep throwing exciting stuff at your readers constantly or they will lose interest.  Trouble is, they will also get overwhelmed and lose interest because of that.

In this particular book, many times when the characters got to rest after a battle or skirmish or fight with a monster, the book yanked readers away and tossed them into another big fight scene in a different storyline, and that got very tiring.

Now, would I recommend this book?  If you like swords-and-sorcery kinds of high fantasy, absolutely.  The writing, aside from the pacing, was stellar.  The story and characters were definitely engaging.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-16 for violence, torture, scary situations, death, branding, angst, emotional pain, and monsters.  No cussing and no smut.

This is my 48th book read from my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2023.

Monday, September 25, 2023

"Murder at Queen's Landing" by Andrea Penrose

Yup, still enjoying this series.  A lot :-D  At this point, I'm fast friends with not just Charlotte Sloane and the Earl of Wrexford, but with all the regular side characters too.  And that means I delight in spending time with them between the pages of each book.

In this particular book, a clerk from the East India Company is murdered near the London harbor.  Nobody thinks much about it, as he's not an important person, but friends of his ask others to help, and they ask others, and soon it's up to Charlotte and Wrexford to untangle a complicated snarl of mathematics, machinery, monetary fraud, and murder.

Plus, Charlotte and Wrexford finally admit to themselves and each other that they care very deeply about one another.  One of the things I like best about this series (at least, the first four books that I have read) is that the romantic undercurrent is strong, but remains clean.  No one has hopped into bed with anyone else so far, which means I don't have to provide any caveats for my praise.

The pacing of this book is a bit slower than the previous three, but I appreciated that.  It spends a lot of time letting us experience Charlotte and Wrexford both coming to grips with how forming friendships and relationships of all sorts has helped them both grow too, and I loved that.

Particularly Good Bits:

Keeping secrets, however well intentioned, was fraught with peril.  Omissions tangled with misunderstandings, and suddenly trust, an oh-so-fragile bond to begin with, snapped (p 120).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 for murder scenes that are not described in a grisly way, some violence, discussions of opium addiction, and a sprinkling of cuss words throughout.

Saturday, September 23, 2023

Giveaway Winners and Wrap-Up for A Tolkien Blog Party 2023

It's time to announce the winners for this year's Tolkien giveaway.  Without further ado, they are:

Prize One (an enamel pin) -- Ivy Miranda
Prize Two (five bookmarks) -- Olivia
Prize Three (Rohan banner sticker sheet) -- Bethani Theresa
Prize Four (hobbit door sticker sheet) -- Samantha B.
Prize Five (One Ring sticker sheet) -- Eva S.
Prize Six (dragon sticker sheet) -- Sam Mouse

Congratulations to this year's winners!  I will be emailing you shortly to ask where you would like your prizes sent.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to this year's party!  I have had a lovely week, and I hope you have too :-)  If you're like me and still working your way through everyone's posts, here's the link-up widget again so you can easily access those.  Also, if you have any last-minute posts you want to add, go right ahead, I won't mind.

See you in Middle-earth again next year!

Answers to the Middle-earth Locations Unscramble Game

Here are the answers to this week's unscramble game!  Scores are below.

1. Delveriln = Rivendell

2. Snami Hittir = Minas Tirith

3. Breero = Erebor

4. Armio = Moria

5. Bothnibo = Hobbiton

6. Doomkriw = Mirkwood

7. Hotgailis = Osgiliath

8. Heartwopet = Weathertop

9. Hillroonet = Lothlorien

10. Grandies = Isengard

11. Roades = Edoras

12. Wetklona - Laketown


Bethani Theresa -- 12
Ivy Miranda -- 12
Sam Mouse -- 12
Olivia -- 11

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Middle-earth Locations Unscramble Game

Time for our second party game for this year's Tolkien Blog Party!

I've scrambled up the names of lots of places mentioned in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.  See if you can unscramble them!  Put your answers in the comments, which I am putting on moderation so no one can cheat.

1. Delveriln

2. Snami Hittir

3. Breero 

4. Armio

5. Bothnibo

6. Doomkriw

7. Hotgailis

8. Heartwopet

9. Hillroonet

10. Grandies

11. Roades


Good luck!

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

What's Your Hobbit Name?

Hobbits are known for having quirky, old-fashioned names.  Our first game this week is all about figuring out what your hobbit name would be if you were transported to the Shire suddenly.  Just follow these instructions and you'll soon be answering to a quaint and humorous name of your own.

First Name -- Part One

The last letter of your real first name determines the first half of your hobbit first name.

A/B/C = Clover-
D/E/F = Flor-
G/H/I = Hum-
J/K/L = Jolly-
M/N/O = Merry-
P/Q/R = Ros-
S/T/U = Star-
V/W/X = Wink-
Y/Z = Yawp-

First Name -- Part Two

The number of letters in your real middle name determines the second half of your hobbit first name.

2 = -ago
3 = -pin
4 = -kins
5 = -luna
6 = -anders
7 = -fling
8 = -abello
9 = -fer
10+ = -o

Last Name -- Part One

Whichever of these words is included of the name of the street where you live determines the first half of your hobbit last name.

Avenue = Brace-
Drive = Floor-
Highway = Apple-
Lane = Light-
Place = Proud-
Road = Blythe-
Street = Sack-
Way = Withy-
All others = Sandy-

Last Name -- Part Two

Your favorite member of the Fellowship of the Ring determines the second half of your last name.

Aragorn = -muffle
Boromir = -bucket
Frodo = -buckle
Gandalf = -cobble
Gimli = -foot
Legolas = -girdle
Merry = -stool
Pippin = -turner
Samwise = -ville

Now just put them all together!  For instance, my hobbit name is Jollyluna Lightbucket.  I rather like that :-)  Sounds sort of frolicsome!  Now, tell us, what's your hobbit name?