Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Top Ten Tuesday: Time for Some Thrilling Heroics

This week, That Artsy Reader Girl is giving us a freebie for Top Ten Tuesday!  I've decided to share my top ten favorite swashbucklers with you.

To me, a book or movie is a swashbuckler if it has adventure, sword fights (or brawls), daring escapes or rescues, and a certain amount of swagger.  I adore stories like that!  Here are my ten favorite, complete with a few story elements you'll find in them.  All titles are linked to my reviews.

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas -- prison escape, long-lost love, revenge, murder, disguises, tall ships, young love, damsels in distress, bandits...

Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson -- stolen inheritance, kidnapping, shipwreck, escape, mismatched buddies, disguises, treason, assassination, fencing, bagpipes...

The Princess Bride by William Goldman -- fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles...

The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle -- archery, banditry, outlawry, brawling, courtly romance, captures, rescues...

The Mark of Zorro by Johnston McCulley -- fencing, disguises, rescues, chases, more fencing...

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson -- pirates, treasure, tall ships, maroonings, sieges, rescues...

The Black Swan by Rafael Sabatini -- pirates, damsels in distress, kidnappings, rescues, tall ships, sea battles, fencing, brawling, treachery...

The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope -- mistaken identity, disguises, fencing, kidnapping, doomed romance, rescues...

The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy -- disguises, rescues, chases, fencing, romance, mistaken identities, damsels in distress...

Sackett's Land by Louis L'Amour -- exploration, chases, escapes, fencing, brawling, tall ships, sea battles, fortune seekers, romance...

And there you have it!  Are you a fan of swashbucklers too?  Got any to recommend?

Saturday, January 28, 2023

"Come Forth as Gold" by Erica Dansereau

This book destroyed me.

Have you noticed the trend these days to say, "This book destroyed me!" like that's a happy and fun reaction to a book?  I don't understand that.  If a book puts me through an emotional wringer, if it has a good and satisfying ending, I may eventually be okay with all the stuff it did to me earlier, but I tend not to be like, "This book was so great!  It totally destroyed me!  I loved every minute!  You should read it!"  I find that a very weird reaction, honestly... and a very weird way to recommend a book. "Here, read this, it'll rip your heart into shreds."  Um, what?  (Also, amusingly, I've read a few books that other people had the "This book destroyed me!  I loved it!" reaction to, and they were just... books where people fell in and out of love a couple times?  They did not destroy me.  Hmm.)

Anyway, this book really did hurt to read.  Especially the first third.  Now, going into it, I could tell that if a book is going to have "But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold" (Job. 23:10) as its motto thingie at the front, it's not going to be a light and joyful read.  But oof, I was not expecting so much hard, sad, depressing stuff to pile on top of other other hard, sad, depressing stuff for so long, in such an unrelenting way.  

In fact, I had to put the book down several times and read something else for the rest of the day.  Oddly, that was usually a hardboiled short story by Dashiell Hammett from a collection called Nightmare Town, and those felt positively cheery by comparison.  

Now, everything does get better eventually.  Slowly.  Hesitantly.  But it does.  I still wouldn't call this a book that I enjoyed, but I did appreciate it.  And I did finish it.  I think if you like intense, heavier books, you'd probably like it a lot.

It starts when thirteen-year-old Claude experiences two major losses back-to-back -- a death in the family, plus his lifelong best friend moving away.  The two losses are related, too, which makes it even worse.  Everything is grey and hopeless and horrible in his life for a long, long time.  As he grows up into a young adult, things gradually improve, and he even finds love and gets married by the end.  But the bleakness takes a long time to fade.

Also, there's a horse on the cover, but there's only a horse in the story for a couple chapters, and it gets very little page time.  It's symbolic, that's all.  That made me kinda sad.

Dansereau has a lot to say about grief and comfort, and I think the real point is supposed to be how the comfort we get from God is longer-lasting than anything we can try to get without Him.  But the Christian message was often oblique or subtext.  Yes, Claude goes and talks to a minister for a while.  A family friend gives him a Bible to read.  His dad tells him to "look to the cross" for comfort.  But the family doesn't attend church, Claude doesn't find the love and forgiveness of Christ as a source of comfort.  There's a conversation at the end about hope being the light in the darkness, but how and why we can hope in Christ is never really discussed, and I was left feeling unsatisfied by the faith-based elements of the book.

Now, if you enjoy books about people going through very hard, very difficult times, you would probably like this book.  Or if you have experienced deep grief like this and want to commiserate with someone fictional, maybe?

Particularly Good Bits: 

The map of grief.  It took a person on routes that sometimes made no sense at all (p. 191).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-16 for occasional cussing and scatalogical words, some violence, and an unwed pregnancy resulting from a rape which is not shown on the page or described in detail.

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

Friday, January 27, 2023

"The Jungle Book" (Manga Classics) by Rudyard Kipling (original story), Crystal S. Chan (story adaptation), and Julien Choy (artwork)

I absolutely love All the Mowgli Stories by Rudyard Kipling, but it's been probably a couple decades since I read just The Jungle Book.  So this was a fun way to re-experience the non-Mowgli stories from that.  In fact, my favorite in this Manga Classics edition ended up being one of the non-Mowgli stories!

My favorite Jungle Book character has always been Bagheera, the great black panther.  I didn't mind his portrayal as a character here, but his artwork made him too round-faced and cute for my taste.  Not quite cat-like enough, I guess.  

The three Mowgli stories here are "Mowgli's Brothers," "Kaa's Hunting," and "Tiger! Tiger!"  I liked their treatment of "Kaa's Hunting" the best, but all three were quite fun.  Some of the action scenes in "Tiger! Tiger!" were particularly good.

I've always found "The White Seal" and "Her Majesty's Servants" kind of boring, and I'm afraid they were here too.  Likewise, I've never connected well with "Toomai of the Elephants," though all the elephant artwork here is splendid.

The absolute standout here, for me, is "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi."  The story is told as a full-blown action-hero sort of story, which was completely perfect and delightful and adorable.  

Rikki-Tikki himself is drawn as the absolute cutest mongoose... but when he fights, he goes kind of Wolverine from the X-men and leaps fiercely into battle with these monstrous snakes, claws out.  Really wonderful stuff.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for danger and peril, violence, and death.  Probably too scary for very little kids.

This has been my 4th book read from my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2023

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Top Ten Tuesday: Hello There

This week's Top Ten Tuesday prompt from That Artsy Reader Girl is "New-to-Me Authors I Discovered in 2022."  Sometimes I get stuck in a rut and read mostly books by authors I'm already familiar with, but I actually tried quite a few new-to-me authors last year!  Here are ten that I would like to read more books by, plus the books I read of theirs in 2022.  I've linked to my reviews of those books, plus provided what genre they are.

John Dudley Ball -- I read In the Heat of the Night (mystery)

Colleen Coble -- I read Silent Night/Holy Night and All is Calm/All is Bright (mystery)

Susan Coolidge -- I read What Katy Did, What Katy Did at School, and What Katy Did Next (slice of life)

Anthony Hope -- I read The Prisoner of Zenda and Rupert of Hentzau (swashbuckler)

Britt Howard -- I read Song of the Valley (clean romance)

Morgan Hubbard -- I read This Cursed Line (fantasy)

Rafael Sabatini -- I read The Black Swan (swashbuckler)

Luke Short -- I read Vengeance Valley (western)

Carly Stevens -- I read Laertes (dark academia)

Candice Pedraza Yamnitz -- I read Unbetrothed (fantasy)

Have you tried any of these authors?  Are any of them on your TBR shelves?  Who did you discover last year!  Do share!

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

"Sackett's Land" by Louis L'Amour

Do you know what I was absolutely not expecting this book to be?  A swashbuckler.  But that's what it is!  Complete with swordfights, shipboard fights, chases and escapes and various other thrilling heroics.  It's absolutely smashing.

Barnabas Sackett falls afoul of a pampered nobleman by, well, laughing at him.  And then failing to be easy to beat up.  The nobleman vows revenge and keeps trying to find Barnabas and wreak his vengeance, but Barnabas just keeps getting wind of his attempts, or slipping through his fingers, or beating him in various ways. 

Barnabas, meanwhile, never makes any secret of the fact that, basically, he's on his way to America.  It's the early 1600s, he's living in England and wanting to start life fresh somewhere bigger and wilder, and America sounds like the perfect spot.

But, while he's just about to embark for the New World, he gets shanghaied by friends of that same nobleman.  But he manages to stay alive all the way across the ocean while surrounded by ruffians aboard ship, then escapes them and sets about trading with the American Indians for furs.  And then he gets kidnapped again, and escapes again, etc.

Barnabas has a great knack for making friends with awesome guys like him who are brave, honorable, and doughty.  Unfortunately, his nemesis has a great knack for killing off Barnabas's new friends while trying to kill Barnabas.  But some of them do survive.  Barnabas eventually makes his way back to England with his fortune pretty well made.  The woman of his dreams agrees to marry him, and they get ready to go back to America and build a new home together there.

It's just a roaring good yarn, I tell you.  And when was the last time you read a Louis L'Amour book that involved going to see a performance of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar at the Globe Theater in London... with William Shakespeare as one of the actors?  I mean, how cool is that?

Particularly Good Bits:

"Each man owes a debt to his family, his country and his species to leave sons and daughters who will lead, inspire and create" (p. 18).

"A man needs heroes.  He needs to believe in strength, nobility and courage.  Otherwise we become sheep to be herded to the slaughterhouse of death" (p. 58).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for lots of violent fights, deaths, escapes... but all told in non-gruesome or terrifying ways. It does have a handful of old-fashioned cuss words. There's also just the smallest insinuation that something really bad could happen to the female love interest when she falls into the hands of some bad guys, but she comes through just fine.

This is my first book read for My Years with the Sacketts and my third book read off my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2023.

Friday, January 13, 2023

"Snowfield Palace" by Kendra E. Ardnek

Oh my.  That turned serious.  Which I probably should have expected from a book that combines "The Snow Queen" by Hans Christian Andersen with Mansfield Park by Jane Austen.  Neither one of those are a barrel of laughs and giggles.

Ginny is an orphan taken in by her dead mother's childhood best friend's family.  Although the family gives her a home, they don't give her much attention or love, and she grows up in the shadows, on the edges of their lives.  She loves their son Kaimund from afar, but knows she's not special or important enough to ever marry him.

Enter Prince Hans and Princess Maia, charming and charismatic siblings who quickly win the hearts of the young folks in the family -- all except Ginny, who doesn't trust Hans and can't quite bring herself to truly like Maia.

And then, everything gets serious.  Even dark.  Some minor characters die, and some large and seemingly permanent changes occur in this fairy tale world that could have lasting ramifications.  I was not expecting quite so much damage to actually happen, and it really pushed the series to a whole different level.  But there's still a happily-ever-after ending for Ginny, don't worry.

I loved how many characters from the first three books showed up again here, and I am eagerly awaiting book five, which is due out this summer!

Particularly Good Bits:

"Everyone is hiding some form of pain, Ginny.  Remember that.  And everyone responds to their pain in different ways.  That's why you have to treat everyone with grace" (p. 11).

"I think any way a person grows up, none of it is a promise that they'll turn out right.  It depends on what sort of person they are, too" (p. 207).

If This was a Move, I Would Rate It: PG for some violence, thievery, and kissing.

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

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Reading Goals -- Completed and Begun

Somehow, it's already January 11 and I haven't written any wrap-up posts for my 2022 reading OR declared what my plans for this year are.  Oops!  Time to rectify that.  

First, let's look at my goals from last year.

Overall Goal

I kept my reading goal at 55 last year.  That's just over one book a week, and I know I generally read at least that many.  In 2022, I read 103 books!  

My Year with Irene Kelly

I decided I wanted to reread the four Irene Kelly mysteries by Jan Burke that I had read previously, and then read the rest of the series too.  And I succeeded!  Well, basically.  I did not read the final book because it revolved around the disturbing serial killer from an earlier book that I had absolutely loathed.  In fact, I disliked that earlier book so much, I didn't even review it on my blog.  I decided I just didn't need to read more about that icky character, so I stopped with book ten.  But I still consider that challenge completed because I chose not to read the last book, I didn't just run out of time or oomph.

You can read my reviews for those books right here.


My goal for last year was to get my unread book collection down under 500 books.  I started out with 512 books, I read 65 books from my TBR shelves... and I ended up with 499 unread books.  So, the good news is, I DID get down under 500 books, but the bad news is that I only barely managed that.  I really need to stay away from used bookstores, heh.

The Disney Origins Book Club

I joined a year-long challenge on Instagram to read books that Disney movies have been based on.  I wanted to participate in at least six months, and I managed seven, so yay!  Those seven were:

Diverse Reading

I set myself the goal of reading at least 12 books by or about people with a different ethnicity, culture, or background from my own.  And I succeeded!  I reviewed most of them here, and you can read those reviews here.

A few fun stats:

103 books read, total 
29 rereads 
2 nonfiction 
12 diverse reads 
8 manga
7 read aloud to my kids 
1 audiobook

Now for my 2023 reading goals!

Overall Goal

I'm keeping this at 55.  It's manageable, and I get a big kick out of surpassing it.

Diverse Reading

Once again, I want to read at least 12 books by or about people who are significantly different from myself somehow.

Classics Club

I want to read at least 12 books from my fourth Classics Club list.


My goal this year is to get my unread book count down to 450.  This is ambitious, but I like challenges.

My Years with the Sacketts

I have spent a few years collecting up all the Louis L'Amour books about the Sackett family, and I have them all now!  There are nineteen books in all, so I don't expect to read them all in 2023 -- instead, my goal is to read ten this year and nine next year.  I plan to read them in chronological order, not in publication order.  Or, at least, in the chronological order I found online -- I guess some people disagree about what order they go in, so I'll just do my best.

Do you set reading goals?  Do you share them?  If so, leave a link and I'll check them out!

Thursday, January 5, 2023

"Howl's Moving Castle" by Diana Wynne Jones

I've been meaning to read Howl's Moving Castle for probably a decade now.  I even got it out of the library once, but took it back unread because I just ran out of time for it.  My son discovered this series recently, and he loves it so much I said I would read the first book so he had someone to discuss it with.

Happily, I liked it a whole lot!  It had the sort of quirky, absurdist humor that makes me laugh aloud.  And the characters were quite loveable.  

Sophie is the oldest of three daughters.  Alas, in the world where she lives, eldest daughters never have any adventures or good luck of any sort.  They always fail.  They are never special.  Since she's doomed to a boring life, Sophie figures she should just stay in her tiny village and sell hats while her younger sisters of have all the adventures and find all the fortunes.  

Except, of course, Sophie ends up having to go out and have an adventure in spite of her own expectations.  After she falls afoul of the Wicked Witch of the Waste, she finds a new job keeping house for the Wizard Howl in his moving castle.  Sophie befriends Howl's apprentice, Howl's fire demon, and (eventually) Howl himself, and she discovers some pretty surprising things about herself too.  And, of course, she ends up helping save the day even though she doesn't think she's meant to.

Particularly Good Bits:

"It's just a tantrum," Sophie said.  Martha and Lettie were good at having tantrums too.  She knew how to deal with those.  On the other hand, it is quite a risk to spank a wizard for getting hysterical about his hair.  Anyway, Sophie's experience told her that tantrums are seldom about the thing they appear to be about (p. 122).

"Nobody's safe in a wizard's house," Calcifer said feelingly (p. 323).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for some perilous and mildly scary parts and lots of (obviously pretend) magic.

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

Do You Love L. M. Montgomery?

If you're a fan of L. M. Montgomery -- her books, stories, characters, and so on -- then I hereby invite you to join me on my other blog, Hamlette's Soliloquy, for a blog party in February!

Check out this post for all the details, the sign-up roster, and so on.

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

Top Ten Tuesday: My Favorite Reads of 2022

I had a wonderful reading year in 2022!  To celebrate it, I've rounded up my "Favorite Books of 2022" to share with you for Top Ten Tuesday today, since that's the prompt from That Artsy Reader Girl this week.

As usual, I'm actually sharing two lists here -- my top ten favorite new reads and my top ten favorite rereads.  Since about a quarter of my reading is rereading, and I tend to revisit my favorites a lot, if I didn't separate the lists, I'd mostly be sharing rereads and that doesn't seem fair to new reads, so... two lists it is!

My Ten Favorite New Reads:

1. Borden Chantry (PG) by Louis L'Amour -- western, mystery, lawman, amateur detective, straight-forward storytelling

2. A Little Beside You (PG-13) by Jenni Sauer -- low-sci sci-fi, fairy tale retelling, gentle bruiser for a hero, cozy vibes, lots of knitting and baking

3. In the Glorious Fields (PG) by Emily Hayse -- magical western, King Arthur retelling, truly heroic heroes and heroines, gorgeous scenery, trilogy (book 3)

4. The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden (G) by Karina Yan Glaser -- family, friendship, city life, gardening, multigenerational friendship, multiracial family, homelessness, found family

5. Isabella's Daughter (PG-13) by Charity Bishop -- history-based fiction, indomitable heroine, castle life, royalty, intrigue

6. Emmazel (G) by Kendra E. Ardnek -- fantasy, fairy tale retelling, Jane Austen retelling, cozy vibes, gardening, female friendship, talking cat

7. Song of the Valley (PG) by Britt Howard -- modern west setting, romantic, enemies-to-lovers, falling for your brother's best friend, horses, helping others

8. Cranford (G) by Elizabeth Gaskell -- shabby genteel cottagecore, female friendship, multigenerational friendship, cozy vibes, slice-of-life

9. Swallowdale (G) by Arthur Ransome -- adventurous kids, sailboats, exploring, camping, friendship

10. Laertes (PG-16) by Carly Stevens -- dark academia, Roaring Twenties, Europe, Shakespeare retelling, male friendship, supportive siblings

My Ten Favorite Rereads:

1. The Blue Castle (PG) by L. M. Montgomery -- transformation, new life, beautiful nature, cozy cottage, island life, happily ever after

2. The Eyre Affair (PG-16) by Jasper Fforde -- book-based fantasy, literature love, alternate universe, Jane Eyre, quirky humor

3. The Long Goodbye (PG-16) by Raymond Chandler -- hard-boiled mystery, male friendship, brooding atmosphere, dark vibes, private detective

4. Kidnapped (PG) by Robert Louis Stevenson -- Scottish Highlands, escape scenes, male friendship, mismatched buddies, political intrigue, reclaimed inheritance, adventure galore

5. Bloodlines (R) by Jan Burke -- triple timeline, hard-boiled mystery, intergenerational friendship, mentors, amateur detective, Irish-American characers

6. The Beautiful Ones (PG) by Emily Hayse -- magical western, King Arthur retelling, truly heroic heroes and heroines, gorgeous scenery, trilogy (book 2)

7. Lost in a Good Book (PG-16) by Jasper Fforde -- book-based fantasy, literature love, alternate universe, Miss Havisham, quirky humor

8. These War-Torn Hands (PG) by Emily Hayse -- magical western, King Arthur retelling, truly heroic heroes and heroines, gorgeous scenery, trilogy (book 1)

9. Loving Isaac (PG-13) by Heather Kaufman -- parenting, autism rep, hesitant romance, turtles, abusive past relationships, sisterhood, Midwestern vibes, strong Christian faith

10. Ophelia (PG-16) by Lisa Klein -- medieval, historical fiction, Shakespeare retelling, first love, young adult, coming of age, secret marriage

Okay!  I hope that gives you some idea of what each of these twenty books are about -- maybe even got you interested in reading them.  Have you read any of them?  What were your favorite books this year?  Do tell!