Wednesday, May 31, 2023

"Tolkien and C. S. Lewis: The Gift of Friendship" by Colin Duriez

Although it took me several months to finish reading this book, that is not because it was boring.  Rather, other books kept shoving their way in front of it.  Library books coming due, ARCs needing to be read before release day, and so on.  Now that my kids are done with school, I have had a lot more time for reading, and I finally finished this!

Duriez begins the book with biographical accounts of J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis from childhood until they met.  He then shows how their personalities, tastes, interests, and ideas blended into friendship.  He spends time discussing the other Inklings too, and how their collective group friendship was important to both Tolkien and Lewis.  Their writing, their faith, and their careers all get explored here, sometimes in depth.  If you are a fan of either author, or you like learning about authors in general, you would probably get a lot out of this book.  I know I did!

Particularly Good Bits:

From his wide experience of reading [Lewis] instinctively rejected a distinction between highbrow and lowbrow literature, serious and popular, and even between so-called good and bad books.  A far more important distinction for him was that between good and bad readers.  Literature, he increasingly felt, exists for the enjoyment of readers, and books therefore should be judged by the kind of reading that they evoke (p. 67-68).

At the core of the friendship of Tolkien and Lewis was their shared antipathy to the modern world.  They were not opposed to dentists, buses, draft beer, and other features of the twentieth century, but what they viewed as the underlying mentality of modernism.  They were not against science or scientists, but the cult of science, found in modernism, and its tendency to monopolize knowledge, denying alternative approaches to knowledge through the arts, religion, and ordinary human wisdom (p. 107).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for some non-explicit allusions to possible sexual relationships between some adults and discussion of the trauma of wartime for soldiers.

This is my 29th book read from my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2023.

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Top Ten Tuesday: Gimme, Gimme, Gimme

This week's Top Ten Tuesday prompt from That Artsy Reader Girl is "things that make me instantly want to read a book."

I thought it was going to be hard to come up with ten things that I gravitate toward, but it turned out to be really easy!  I discovered I'm actually quite predictable when it comes to what will draw me to a book.  

1. It's a mystery.  Amateur detectives, police detectives, private investigators -- I love them all.  I want to know what happened and whodunnit, and I would prefer not to figure out the solution before the author reveals it, thank you very much.  Favorite authors for my favorite genre include Raymond Chandler, A. Conan Doyle, Rex Stout, Dashiell Hammett, Jan Burke, and Laurie R. King.

2. It's historical fiction.  Give me something set in the past, and I am instantly interested.  Two particular historical settings are always magnets for me, which I'll discuss below, but really just saying "historical fiction" gets me intrigued.  

3. It's by an author I already like.  Yes, I'll try new authors.  I routinely do.  But the name of an author whose other books I know I enjoy is always going to attract me to a book.  I am a creature of habit who likes knowing a bit of what to expect, and I love to read a new book by an old favorite author.

4. It has a "found family" vibe.  So many of my favorite books have "found families" in them, like The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien, The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton, and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Schafer and Annie Barrows.

5. It's about a close friendship.  I am far more attracted to stories that revolve around a friendship than ones that revolve around a romance.  Give me two people who would kill for, die for, or live for each other, but aren't romantically involved, and I will just eat that story up with a spoon.

6. It's a retelling.  I write retellings.  I read retellings.  I love seeing how an author can build a new story on an existing framework.  I love finding the parallels and the shout-outs and the references.  I don't love every retelling I've read, but I definitely will be attracted to a book just from hearing that it's a retelling.

7. It's a western.  This is really a recent development.  Until the last ten years or so, I infinitely preferred my cowboys to be on the screen, not on the page.  I had read maybe three or four adult westerns up until then.  Now, I gobble them up.  Not sure why it took me so long to get into them, but I'm glad to be here now!

8. It's set during WWII.  If the Old West is where my imagination lives, WWII is where it goes on vacation.  You put "1940s" or "WWII" in that cover blurb and you instantly have my attention.  

9. It's a classic.  I have read a lot of classics.  I have a lot more classics yet to read.  These books and stories and characters remained popular decades and even centuries for a reason -- because they have important and enjoyable things to say.  Also, I love how, every time I read a new classic, some reference in some other book or movie will suddenly make sense.  

10. It's got a horse on the cover.  This is a carryover from my horse-obsessed childhood, but it still holds true.  Put a horse on the cover of your book and I will at least pick it up and read the cover blurb.  Basically every time.  Powerful stuff.

This was an incredibly fun post to write!  I hope you enjoyed reading it.   I think I might do something similar over on my other blog, only about what draws me to movies, actually.

Thursday, May 18, 2023

"A Deed of Dreadful Note" by Patricia Meredith

Not only is this a rousingly good mystery in its own right, but this book has made me aware of a classic mystery author I can't wait to try:  Anna Katharine Green.  I've done a bit of looking into her and her books, thanks to this one, and I expect to try her mysteries soon!

A Deed of Dreadful Note is a fictional account of how Anna Katharine Green could possibly have gotten her ideas for the first mystery she ever wrote, The Leavenworth Case.  Anna's father is a lawyer who represents a young woman suspected of killing her wealthy uncle.  Anna befriends the young woman and tries to help her father and a private investigator named Sokol learn the truth about the murder so that her new friend can go free.

Not gonna lie: Sokol was my favorite character in this.  He's abundantly intelligent, socially awkward, afflicted with rheumatoid arthritis, and possessed of unsuspected kindness and charm.  I fell for him quite quickly.  The fact that Meredith created him as someone that Green could have used as inspiration for her first detective really has me wanting to try The Leavenworth Case!  

But that's not to say that Anna herself wasn't an awesome character.  I liked her a lot, and I am glad to see this is the first in a planned series because I would love to spend more time in her company.

Meredith has an easy, conversational style, and reading this book was a delight.  I actually read an advance copy of it, but when it releases on May 30, I plan to order a paperback copy for my shelves because I liked it that much.  And you can bet I'll be reading more by Meredith in the future!

I was given an advance copy of this book by the publisher, but I was not required to write a review.  All thoughts and gushing are my own true opinions.

Particularly Good Bits:

"The bloom upon a handsome sister's cheek will fade with the roses of departed summer.  But a woman who trains the mind builds up an endless storehouse of wealth from which she can produce treasures for her own enjoyment, as well as those about her."

Why is it that the only way for God to teach us patience is by throwing us into situations where we must practice exactly that?

Sokol might say he wanted to know my thoughts, but I knew he didn't mean it.  No one ever really wanted to know what another person was thinking.  There was a reason why God had given us mouthpieces that opened and closed.

"Let God handle the 'ifs.'  He's had more practice."

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for a couple of murders that are not depicted in a gory way, but which are also not glossed over.  There is one mild cuss word.  No smut or on-page violence.

Saturday, May 13, 2023

"Hummingbird" by Natalie Lloyd

Natalie Lloyd's books continue to enchant and delight me.  And make me cry.  This one definitely made me cry multiple times toward the end -- but not over sad things!  Like with most books (and movies), what made me cry was some really, really good stuff happening against the odds that it wouldn't.

Like, not to spoil the ending or anything, but man, it is GOOD.  

Olive has "brittle bone disease," or osteogenesis imperfecta.  Because she's had so many broken bones all through her childhood, she's always been homeschooled.  And she doesn't mind being homeschooled, but she would really like to try public school, just to know what it's like.  So, she convinces her parents to let her try it.  And she struggles to fit in.  And she makes friends.  And she pursues her dream of being an actress by trying out for the school play.  And there's heartache and happiness and joy and fear and wonder.  And magic.  

Also, this is the first Natalie Lloyd book I've read that involves going to church.  Olive and her family attend what basically sounds like a non-denominational church, and Olive talks openly about praying, believing in God, and so on.  But, yes, there's also magic in the form of a magical hummingbird that grants wishes.  You just kind of have to read it to get it.  The only thing I didn't approve of was that Olive's church has a woman pastor, which I believe is unscriptural, but that is not enough to make me stop from recommending this book.

Oh, and Natalie Lloyd herself has osteogenesis imperfecta, which gives this book another layer of poignancy.

Particularly Good Bits:

All in all, it seemed like an ordinary day.  But it wasn't.  Beginnings are sneaky like this (p. 2).

Banjo music sounds like sunshine on a string.  Like a bumblebee square dance (p. 9).

"You're not a miracle because you have brittle bones or because you use a wheelchair or walker.  You're not a miracle if you don't.  You're a miracle because you exist.  Everybody is" (p. 24).

Mama and Jupiter have always told me that one person's talent does not take away from your talent (p. 244).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: G.  No cussing or violence.

This is my 26th book read from my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2023.

Friday, May 12, 2023

"A Midsummer Night's Dream: Modern English Edition" (Manga Classics) by William Shakespeare (original story), Crystal S. Chan (story adaptation), Michael Barltrop (modern English adaptation), and Po Tse (art)

You know what?  I am just going to have to accept the fact that I really don't enjoy the story of A Midsummer Night's Dream.  I get very frustrated with every single character at various points, except Helena.  I actively dislike most of them, actually.  And I don't like Helena enough to want to suffer through the rest of the story just for her.  Unless it's the 1935 movie version, which I enjoy enough for the cast to watch it once in a great while.

However, the artwork is really fun and cute in this Manga Classics edition, so I didn't suffer too much reading it.  I did put it down for like two months because I was so annoyed by everyone, though.  But I finished it at last, whew.  I thought they did a good job translating Shakespeare into modern English, and they even replaced most of his bawdier jokes with more kid-friendly ones.  There's one moment where a character alludes to someone being upset whenever women refuse to open their thighs, but that's the only skanky spot, and it's pretty mild.

Not going to be a manga I reread, but it is very pretty, so there's that.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate it: PG-10 for the above bawdy reference and for two or three old-fashioned cuss words.

This is my 27th book read from my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2023.

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

"Murder on Black Swan Lane" by Andrea Penrose

These days, I almost never read a book without having read someone's review of it that made me go, "I want to read that!" Or without it being by an author I enjoy.  So this was kind of a treat, in that way, because I really knew nothing about it except that an Instagram friend thought I would like it.  When I ordered a book box from her Etsy shop, this is the book she chose for me, knowing I love mysteries and historical fiction.  And she was right!  I really, really enjoyed this book!  In fact, I just put a hold on the next book in the series at my library.

Murder on Black Swan Lane has two main characters: Charlotte Sloane and the Earl of Wrexford.  They take turns being the POV character throughout the book.  Charlotte is a widow, and she is secretly a very popular and famous political cartoonist whose satirical artwork is the talk of Regency-era London.  When one of her pieces accuses Wrexford of committing a brutal murder, it brings him to her door, demanding either a retraction of some sort.  They eventually join forces, albeit unwillingly, and work to bring the actual murderer to justice.

The whole book is thoroughly enjoyable, especially if you enjoy lots of Regency slang and fashion and other period-correct details, plus a dastardly plot to untangle, but without delving into sordidity.  (Do you like that word?  I just coined it.)  Although there are some ugly murders, and some violence toward children, the book does not devolve into grisly, preferring to remain grimy but not gruesome.  I look forward to continuing the series, and I'm happy to discover there are five more books in the series out already, with another due out this fall.  I do love a good series, and I hope this one continues in the same vein!

Particularly Good Bits:

Hope, however, was a two-edged sword, a dangerous weapon in careless hands (p. 277).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 for murders, violence to children, lots of danger and peril, and a sprinkling of cuss words.  No smut, but some mention of things like mistresses and ladies of the evening.

This is my 25th book read from my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2023.

Tuesday, May 9, 2023

"Yours, Constance" by Emily Hayse

Set in the Roaring Twenties and tinged with magic, Your, Constance is an atmospheric treat.  Constance Hanover seeks solace at dazzling, deafening parties for the pain of having lost her sister in a tragic accident.  There, she meets Ella Whittington, sixteen-year-old heiress with her own sad past to haunt her.  Ella befriends Constance despite the latter's tendency to try to mentor, mother, reprimand, counsel, and boss her... all in nice ways, but I did wonder once in a while if Ella wasn't going to get tired of Constance always reminding her to be careful, be cautious, watch out, and so on.  

Actually, Constance reminded me of myself in that respect, as I also tell people those things a lot.  Only difference being that I usually direct those instructions to my children, not a slightly younger friend.

Ella's father died recently, possibly murdered.  Possibly murdered by her brother, in fact.  Her brother has disappeared, leaving Ella in possession of a mighty fortune, and possibly many secrets as well.  Constance watches and waits to see what happens next from the sidelines, gradually coming closer and closer to the truth that is tangled up with the tragedy surrounding Ella.

There are faerie stories woven throughout the book's text, little hints about things that might be going on in the story's background, all of which get deliciously resolved at the end.  There was even one little twist I didn't see coming at all, which I appreciated.

Particularly Good Bits:

A roaring party is one of the safest places to be dead inside.  No one notices (p. 19).

Dreams were things that broke and cut your fingers when they did (p. 44).

"This society worships shallow things as if they can be obtained and held by sheer willpower.  They dance on the edges of precipices, never dreaming their ruin could be inches -- seconds -- away" (p. 141).

Sometimes it takes pain and sorrow to make us see how wonderful the real world is.  But more powerful than pain, I think, is beauty.  It can break our hearts more than sorrow can, because it is more lasting.  After pain and sorrow end, there is still beauty.  I wonder, sometimes, if beauty might be a matter of life and death after all (p. 232-233).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for lots of alcohol use and a smidgeon of non-gory violence.  No smut, no cussing.

This is my 25th book read off my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProjecto2023.

Sunday, May 7, 2023

"Night of Wonders" by Charity Bishop

What a unique book!  Night of Wonders is a fantasy-adventure-romance set in ancient India with a librarian for the main character.  A librarian who serves and curates magical books, but is not allowed to use magic himself. 

Anik unexpectedly steps into the role of head Librarian when the man he serves under is found guilty of a crime and has his magical abilities removed as punishment.  Anik loves knowledge and wants to remain in the library always, but he must hide the fact that he can do magic himself because he is from a lower caste that is not allowed to have or perform magic.

The Library belongs to a powerful Maharaja with two strong-willed children, the twins Nyan and Ishana.  The twins are coming of age, and the whole court is traveling to the capital city so they can compete in the Night of Wonders, a festival of magic.

Anik reconnects with a childhood friend who convinces him that they could change India's laws about who is allowed to have and do magic if they work together.  But Anik is torn between his friend's idea of equality and his own growing love for Ishana.  Though she is far out of his reach, Anik still yearns for the lovely and talented princess, and he cannot keep his desires hidden for long.

I really enjoyed Bishop's storytelling here.  She weaves together Indian folklore and myths with her own astute characterizations to form an entrancing tapestry of magic and love.  Parts of the story were creepy (the ghosts with backward feet just make me shudder!!!), parts were thrilling, and parts made me appreciate the opportunities for equality I enjoy in my current society.

This book releases on Friday, May 12!  I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.  I was not required to review it.  All opinions are mine and unprompted.

Particularly Good Bits:

Privileged people never want change.  It scares them.

No child can escape the curse of their parents.

"The stronger a gift, the greater the temptation to abuse it."

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 for scary images, magic use, some romantic kisses and mentions of a woman's curves, and some violence.  No bad language, no erotic scenes, no gore.

This is my 24th book read from my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2023.

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

The Spring Cleaning Book Tag

I've snagged this tag from Sally Silverscreen at 18 Cinema Lane because it looks like lots of fun!

1. The Struggle of Getting Started – A book or book series you struggle to begin because of its size

I would like to read the Barchester Chronicles by Anthony Trollope, in theory, but there are six books, and I don't know if I'm going to like them, and they sound very cool except what if they disappoint me... and yeah, I have embarked upon twenty-book series with much less trepidation than this one causes for no real reason whatever.  I will try them eventually.

2. Cleaning Out the Closet – A book or book series you want to unhaul 

I've unhauled all the books I want to unhaul for right now, thank you.  I have been culling my TBW shelves every month or so for several years now.  I think the last books I put in our sell-to-the-used-bookstore box in the basement were the Jane Austen retellings by Debra White Smith, which I tried out and realized were just not the sort of book I really enjoy.

3. Opening Windows and Letting Fresh Air In – A book that was refreshing 

I reread The Enchanted April last month for the first time since 2021, and it absolutely refreshed and rejuvenated me.

4. Washing Out the Sheets’ Stains – A book you wish you could re-write a certain scene in 

Well, most recently, I would like to have rewritten part of Moonfleet by J. Meade Falkner so that the best character in the whole book wouldn't have to sacrifice his life to save the main character.

5. Throwing Out Unnecessary Knick-Knacks – A book in a series you didn’t feel was necessary 

Hmm.  Bones by Jan Burke.  I disliked it so much, even though I overall very much enjoy the Irene Kelly series, that I didn't review it here because I want to forget about it.

6. Polishing the Door Knobs – A book that had a clean finish 

Beauty by Robin McKinley had a fantastically wonderful ending.

7. Reaching to Dust the Fan – A book that tried too hard to relay a certain message 

The Lady and the Lionheart by Joanne Bischof worked much too hard to convince us that tattoos are not Really Terrible, and we Should Not Hate People Who Have Tattoos.  It is assumed that it would be difficult to decide if it would be worse to get your body covered in tattoos or to become a prostitute.  How is that even a choice, people?

8. The Tiring, Yet Satisfying Finish of Spring Cleaning – A book series that was tiring, yet satisfying, to get through

Hmm.  This is the one question I don't have a good answer to because... if a series is tiring, I will just not finish it.  Most of the time, though, I love to stretch a series out over months or years so I can savor it properly, and that definitely keeps them from feeling tiring!

I was not tagged for this, so I am not tagging anyone specific either.  If you like the questions and want to do the tag, go for it!

Monday, May 1, 2023

"Jubal Sackett" by Louis L'Amour

Well, this is by far my favorite Sackett book so far!!!  The entire thing was about surviving in the wilderness, living off the land, and defending yourself with a few weapons and your wits.  

Jubal Sackett, wandering son of Barnabas Sackett, explores the land between the Appalachian and Rocky Mountains.  He's tasked with finding a Natchez princess named Itchakomi and telling her that her people need her to return home, and he races to find her before the Natchez warrior who intends to force Itchakomi to marry him.  Jubal and Itchakomi get married instead, and then have to fend off the other warrior and his pals, plus Spanish soldiers, raiders from other tribes, predators, and the weather.

Particularly Good Bits:

To talk too much is always a fault.  Information is power (p. 19).

That was how I would remember my father.  There was never a place he walked that was not the better for his having passed (p. 242).

If strength could not win, one must use wit, if one has any (p. 243).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG for violence, danger, a handful of old-fashioned cuss words, and man bent on buying a woman so he can traffick her.

This has been my 23rd book read from my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2023.