Thursday, June 29, 2023

"High Lonesome" by Louis L'Amour

This is probably the grittiest book I have read yet from L'Amour.  And one of the deepest and most profound.  While I always learn things about history and human nature from his books, High Lonesome has particular heft.  In fact, I am counting it as a classic book for my Classics Club list because it has so many amazing insights into the way people act and interact, plus some gorgeous writing.

High Lonesome explores the question of whether or not someone can turn from the path they're on and choose a different one, as well as how much a person's past affects their future.  The main character, a young man named Considine, has slowly fallen into an unsavory lifestyle.  A successful small robbery when he needed some money fast led to a larger robbery, and so on until now, he's part of a gang that robs banks.  Considine is a careful planner, and his cautious ways ensure their robberies are quick and clean.  But Considine has a conscience that hasn't totally been deadened yet by whatever reasons and excuses he makes for his outlawry.  It bothers him, and he sometimes yearns to find a way to leave his badman lifestyle.

Dave Spanyer and his daughter Lennie are headed for California.  Spanyer was an outlaw in his younger days but, when he married, he turned honest.  He and his wife lived happily for years, and now he's been raising Lennie by himself since his wife died.  But his past misdeeds threaten to wreck his reputation now, so Spanyer decides they should move to California where no one will know him, and where his criminal past won't jeopardize his daughter's future.

Lennie is a sweet, kind, intelligent young woman, and her open cheerfulness makes her friends wherever she goes.  She's the kind of female character L'Amour wrote best -- one who is as capable and determined as the male characters in his stories, but still distinctly feminine.  This little excerpt shows what I mean:

     Lennie was building a fire.  "I thought you'd want some coffee," she said, "and there's a little meat."
     Considine glanced at her, and then away, his throat tight.  She was so much the daughter of Dave Spanyer, and too much the child of rolling wagons and Indian fighting not to know what awaited them; yet she went quietly about the business of making coffee, a woman's business.  But her rifle lay close at hand.
     What man would not want such a woman?  Not one to follow only, but to stand beside him during the dark days, to work with him, plan with him, share with him, making their life a whole thing together. (p. 120)

That's the sort of Strong Female Characters I love best -- ones with inner strength who aren't afraid to face hardship, defend themselves and others, and do what is right, but who also aren't afraid to be womanly.  Who know that caring for others, feeding and nurturing them, are important and worthy tasks, and who don't sneer at doing them.

A chance meeting between the Spanyers and Considine's gang changes the future for all of them.  Considine makes the choice to put someone else's safety before his own, and his willingness to sacrifice himself inspires and changes those around him as well.  It's a thrilling adventure, yes, but one with so much weighty and serious pondering beneath the surface.

Particularly Good Bits:

Folks said time was a healer, but time was also a thief.  It robbed a man of years, and robbed him of memories (p. 35).

Spanyer knew that no man could be judged except against the background of his time.  The customs and moral standards of a time were applicable only to that time (p. 82-83).

Why did the young think that dreams were only for them?  The old dream also, with less hope, less anticipation, yet they dream (p. 106).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-16 for some mentions of pretty gruesome ways to torture and kill a person.  L'Amour doesn't spend more than a sentence or two on them, but they are horrible to imagine.  There's also a little bit of kissing and a smattering of bad language, plus quite a bit of western violence.  The threat of rape hovers in the background but is not explicitly mentioned.  Older teens can probably handle it, but I wouldn't hand this to my thirteen-year-old.

This is my 16th book read and reviewed for my fourth Classics Club list and my 38th book read from my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2023.

Monday, June 26, 2023

20 Books of Summer (Well, Sorta)

I just learned about the 20 Books of Summer challenge thanks to Bloggin' 'Bout Books, and it looks so fun I had to join!  This event is hosted by the blog 746 Books, and the official signup post for it is right here.

I've already read quite a few books this month (in fact, I read 12 while on vacation), but I'm not going to count those because I didn't join the challenge until just today.  However, since the summer is almost a third over now, and since I am an inveterate mood reader, I am going to try to read 10 specific books, rather than 20.  So, here are the 10 books I intend to read between today (June 26) and August 31:

  1. Code Name Edelweiss by Stephanie Landsem (currently reading)
  2. Lando by Louis L'Amour
  3. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo (currently reading)
  4. Murder at Kensington Palace by Andrea Penrose
  5. Carry On, Jeeves by P. G. Wodehouse
  6. A Name Long Buried by C. M. Banschbach
  7. Peter Duck by Arthur Ransome (currently reading)
  8. Sackett by Louis L'Amour
  9. Then Comes a Drifter by C. M. Banschbach
  10. Thornrose Estate by Kendra E. Ardnek

I really enjoy reading challenges like this, so I'm excited to join!  Do you also participate in reading challenges from time to time?  

Thursday, June 22, 2023

"Blue Moon Promise" by Colleen Coble

Yes, I got very into the mood to read westerns while I was on vacation.  I suspected I would, since we were traveling through a chunk of the West, so I brought several along with me.  Including this one.

Lucy Marsh loses her job as a seamstress and then finds out she and her two younger siblings are being evicted.  Her parents are dead, and her stepmother is uninterested in caring for Lucy's brother and sister.  And strange men have been skulking around and making threatening remarks to Lucy and her brother.  When a childhood friend of her father's turns up and offers her a way to provide for herself and her siblings, Lucy feels she has no choice but to accept.  His offer?  Enter into a proxy marriage with his son Nate, then travel out to Texas to begin life anew there.

Nate Stanton knows marriage is a blessing.  He just doesn't have time for it, what with trying to expand the family ranch while keeping his antagonistic neighbors at bay, and all that entails.  He is plenty upset when his father shows up with a surprise wife for Nate, plus her two siblings.  What could a short, scrawny city girl like Lucy hope to do on a Texas ranch?  Sit around looking pretty? Nate does not have time for such nonsense.

But, of course, Lucy is more capable than Nate realizes.  And Nate is kinder and more understanding that Lucy had even hoped.  Together, they start to build a life together while trying to decide when they will both be ready to consummate their relationship.  

Oh, yes, there is a LOT of dithering about that.  Dithering and fretting and musing and dithering some more.  To the point that I got rather frustrated with them both.  Like, kids, I know you're both nervous about how this is going to go, but maybe it will go better if you stop thinking and worrying about it and just go ahead and get in bed together?  Plenty of people throughout history have gotten married to people they basically didn't know, and I'm sure that creates a lot of awkwardness, but I think this book spun that all out a lot longer than was necessary.  I would much rather have had a good chunk of the book explore their life together once they'd "done it" and discovered that sex is just one small part of a marriage.  Important, yes, but not the be-all, end-all pinnacle of married life that it is too often built up to be.  But, nope, not the route the book went.  Oh well.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 for tasteful and non-explicit thinking about sex, some violence, kids in danger, and one fairly scary wolf attack.

This is my 37th book read from my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2023.

Monday, June 19, 2023

"Black Gun, Silver Star: The Life and Legend of Frontier Marshal Bass Reeves" by Art T. Burton

This book has been on my wishlist for a while now.  When I spotted the updated new edition at the Hole in the Wall Bookstore at Wall Drug in South Dakota while on vacation earlier this month, I snapped it up.  What better time to read about a great Old West hero than while driving around the West?

Bass Reeves was born into slavery in Arkansas in the summer of 1838.  He became one of the most-respected and feared Deputy U. S. Marshals in American history.  While enforcing the law under the jurisdiction of Judge Isaac Parker in the Indian Territory, Marshal Reeves served more than three thousand arrest warrants, but rarely resorted to gun violence.  He killed an estimated 14 people during more than thirty years as a peace officer, survived numerous assassination attempts, and was only wounded once at the most.  

This book is a meticulously researched deep-dive into Reeves's life, especially focusing on his career as a lawman.  It includes many, many court records, letters, telegrams, and even interviews with a few people who had met him.  It could have become a dry recitation of facts, but Burton fleshes out the litany of arrests with descriptions of Indian Territory and newspaper articles, as well as recollections of people involved when available.

One of the things I found most interesting was how the nature of keeping the peace on the frontier changed during Reeves's career.  When he first started enforcing the law, Indian Territory was a haven for lawbreakers and bad people of every sort.  Reeves arrested murderers, peddlers of illegal alcohol, and thieves of every sort for decades.  But, as the frontier gradually was settled by more and more farmers and tradesmen, and eventually was turned into actual states, he had fewer violent criminals to track down, and more disturbers of the peace, swindlers, and so on.

It was also interesting that there was such a focus on arresting people for "introducing and selling" alcohol in Indian Territory in the wildest years.  From what I could gather, the Marshals had an approach somewhat similar to the way New York City cut down on crime for several decades -- if we can stop people from committing "small" crimes and convince them that even "minor" crimes don't pay, that will cut down on the "big" crimes too.

Also very interesting was how racial relations changed during his career.  When he was one of a handful of men brave enough to ride into Indian Territory after lawbreakers, the color of Bass Reeves's skin was rarely an issue.  Black and white Marshals worked together with American Indian peace officers, and everyone arrested anyone who broke the law, regardless of race.  But, as the area became more "civilized," there were more and more instances of white people taking offense at his authority.  Black lawbreakers also seemed to submit to his authority more readily than to a white Marshal's, at least in the instances described.  

I found this especially interesting because it agrees with other research I have done into Old West history, which points to the idea that, when survival was everyone's primary concern, racial conflict was more rare.  But whenever people got comfortable with their surroundings and started to feel safe about life-and-death issues like water, food, shelter, and "public safety," then racial conflicts increased.  Certainly bigotry and hatred of people with perceived differences have existed since Cain killed Abel and fled, marked as "other."  And, also, there was a lot of racial hatred from both sides involved in the wars between the American Indians and the white settlers.  But it's really fascinating how people were more willing to peacefully live and work with someone who was somehow "other" when they were all trying to survive.


Even if you've never heard of Bass Reeves before, you have probably heard of a fictional character that was most likely based on him.  Historians think that when George W. Trendle and Fran Striker created The Lone Ranger radio show in 1933, they took inspiration from Marshal Reeves's dedication to bringing in suspects alive as often as he could, his habit of teaming up with American Indians when pursuing lawbreakers, and the way that good and bad people alike feared him, as well as his tendency to use disguises.

I wrote a column about Bass Reeves for the Prairie Times last fall, which you can read online here if you want to know a bit more about his life and legacy.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 for matter-of-fact and non-sensational mention of murder, rape, and other violent acts.  You will definitely come away from this book convinced of the depravity of humankind, but it is not gross or gruesome.

This is my 35th book read from my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2023 (though it technically never made it to my TBR shelves because I bought and read it while on vacation).

Saturday, June 17, 2023

"The Daybreakers" by Louis L'Amour

Wow.  I mean, wow.

When L'Amour sets out to write a serious book, he writes a really serious book.  What these boys go through in this story -- it's no picnic.

Tyrel Sackett saves his brother Orrin from getting shot on his wedding day.  Orrin's bride-to-be takes the bullet instead, all part of the Sacketts' feud with the Higginses.  Tye downs her murderer, the last of the Higgins clan, then flees Tennessee for the West.  Orrin comes along because, well, his bride was just killed at the altar and he really doesn't have any use for Tennessee anymore just then.

Tyrel and Orrin take odd jobs here and there, mainly herding cows, and make friends with a couple men called Tom Sunday and Cap Rountree.  The four of them get the idea to start rounding up wild cattle and selling them, and they wind up down near Santa Fe.  Orrin falls for Laura Pritts, daughter of Johnathon Pritts, who is a no-good conniver.  Tye falls for Drusilla Alvarado, daughter of a wealthy and honorable Mexican don.  Then commences what basically becomes another feud like the one Tye and Orrin fled, only it's a Pritts-Alvarado feud instead, and they get tangled up in it. 

There's a lot of symmetry in this book, like how the two feuds get contrasted, and also the two women the brothers fall for being very different, too.  Tyrel and Orrin also get compared a bit, but only here and there.  Still, you could say they're foils for each other, as the choices of one highlight the different choices of the other.  The book ends with a killing just like it began, too.

It really digs into some deep subjects, too, like the importance of loyalty and community, the dangers of stubbornness, and the value of family relationships.

The Daybreakers was so good, I had to pause every chapter or so to just digest and enjoy and revel in it.  Definitely one of the best L'Amour books I have read!  Also, Tye may describe himself as ornery and contrary and mean, but I found him pretty dreamy, tbh.

Particularly Good Bits:

There would be trouble enough, but man is born to trouble, and it is best to meet it when it comes and not lose sleep until it does (p. 8).

Reed Carney wanted a shoot out and he wanted to win, but me, I'm more than average contrary (p. 23).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for some mild cussing, alcohol use, and multiple scenes of western violence.

This was my 34th book read from my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2023.

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

"The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" (Manga Classics) by Mark Twain (original story), Crystal S. Chan (story adaptation), and Kuma Chan (art)

Another winsome Manga Classics edition!  While I have never cared as much for Huck's book as for Tom Sawyer's, I really enjoyed reading this manga.  The pacing was wonderful, the characterization was thoughtful, and the artwork was charming.  

They included much of the original language of Twain's novel, so be aware there are words and racial slurs used here that may offend some people -- but the manga team make a point of explaining that the reason they included them is the same reason Twain originally used them: to show the cruel thoughtlessness of racism.  Huck spends a great time grappling with the fact that he's been taught all his life it's wrong to help a slave escape... but he eventually decides he's just going to have to give up trying to be good if it means stopping Jim from escaping slavery.  He doesn't realize it, but he's learning to follow his God-given conscience instead of society's dictates, and they bring that through so eloquently here!

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 for a lot of racial slurs, some mild cursing, and some violence.

This has been my #32nd book read from my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2023.

Friday, June 9, 2023

"Sherlock Holmes: The Montana Chronicles" by John S. Fitzpatrick

This was an enjoyable collection of short stories about Holmes and Watson having four adventures in Montana in the 1890s.  While I didn't fully love any of the stories, I did have fun reading them, especially since I took this book along on vacation and read it while in Montana!

Of the four stories, I liked "The Mysterious Woman" best because it felt most like a story from the canon, with Holmes uncovering the reason behind a woman's sudden and inexplicable behavioral changes.  

The places and many of the people in this book are historically accurate, which was nifty.  The book contains lots of photos of locations from around the time the stories take place.  However, the writing sometimes dragged because the author often hared off on tangents about how various bits of mining machinery and apparatus operated.  Where one paragraph would have sufficed, we got a page or two, and so on.  Great if you're fascinated by 1890s mining methods in Montana, I suppose, but I eventually began to skim them.

Also, the author repeatedly portrays Holmes as using cocaine to keep alert while on a stakeout, and I am pretty sure (though I admit it has been a few years since I read the whole canon) that he canonically only uses cocaine when he is between cases and suffering from extreme ennui, never while on a case.  That bugged me.

So... it was a fun read, but not one I'll be rereading.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 for some mentions of husbandly "urges," some alcohol and drug use, and some violence.

This is my 33rd book read off my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2023.

Thursday, June 8, 2023

"The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" (Manga Classics) by Mark Twain (original story), Crystal S. Chan (story adaptation), and Kuma Chan (art)

I have loved Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn ever since I was in single digits and read the Great Illustrated Classics abridged versions of their books.  I later read the actual books by Twain, repeatedly, and very much enjoyed them, especially The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.  So I was fully prepared to relish this Manga Classics edition... and I did!  It was just the right blend of childhood fun and mischief, adventure, and frolicsome fun.  I can't wait to read their version of Huck's story.

This was a perfect summertime read!  Also, it's really cool how the cover for this one and for The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn fit together to make one whole map and picture.  You'll see what I mean if you search online for their covers.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for a couple of mild curse words and racial slurs that are used in the original book.  

This is my 31st book read from my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2023.

Wednesday, June 7, 2023

"Murder at Half Moon Gate" by Andrea Penrose

Another winner!  I liked this one even better than the first book in the series, Murder on Black Swan Lane.  I really, really am enjoying these books. 

In this one, Charlotte Sloane is in the process of moving to a house in a better part of London.  Not a great part, but a bit safer and more respectable, which she wants not for her own sake, but for Raven and Hawk, the two street urchins she has taken in as her wards.  The Earl of Wrexford stumbles across another dead body, and before they know it, both he and Charlotte are busy trying to figure out why someone killed a respected inventor.  They uncover all manner of intrigue and skulduggery in Regency London once again.

Particularly Good Bits:

"Suspicion wields an eager spade.  It cares not where it digs, as long as it's turning up dirt" (p. 138).

That she could help puncture lies and expose evil with her art had somehow taken hold in her heart (p.151).

What place did people have in a world where machines made their efforts obsolete?  What lay ahead for those who toiled with their hands? (p. 185).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for murder, violence, a bit of innuedendo here and there, and a sprinkling of cuss words.  Once again, no smut, but Wrexford and Sloane are feeling a growing attraction to each other, which has remained tasteful this far.

Monday, June 5, 2023

"The Bell Family" by Noel Streatfeild

This was such a charming book to read aloud to my kids!  The Bell family live in London.  In the shabby but respectable part.  Alex Bell is an optimistic, kind, firm clergyman.  His wife Cathy is sensible, practical, but also joyful and sweet.  Their oldest son Paul wants to be a doctor but worries he should choose a more profitable career path so he could help his family financially before long.  Jane is a talented dancer who yearns for good dancing lessons.  Ginnie is a free spirit who gets into a lot of mischief because she never stops to think twice about consequences.  Angus is cute and funny, with a wonderful singing voice and some talent at dancing too.

Together, the Bell family has many little adventures that all tie together around the theme of trying to get better dancing lessons for Jane.  This was originally a radio serial for BBC that ran for six years, and then Streatfeild put some of their adventures into a book too.  Streatfeild grew up in a big, fairly poor family with a vicar for a father too, and I expect that's what gives this book its feel of grounded authenticity.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: G.  Good, clean, wholesome, uplifting, and funny stuff. 

This is my 15th book read for my fourth Classics Club list and my 30th from my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2023.

Saturday, June 3, 2023

"Ride the River" by Louis L'Amour

This Sackett book is mostly from the point of view of Echo Sackett, a sixteen-year-old girl on a mission: she needs to collect a sizable inheritance left her by the descendants of a friend of her forebear Kin Sackett.  She has to go to Philadelphia to get it, and on the way home to the mountains of Tennessee, she's waylaid repeatedly by rogues cutthroats, and thugs determined to steal her money.  But Echo is a Sackett, and she has a handy guy named Dorian Chantry and another called Archie along to sort of chaperone her on her way home, and the three of them all take turns proving to each other just how surprisingly handy they can be in a tight spot.

I absolutely loved Echo Sackett.  She put me in mind of Mattie Ross from True Grit by Charles Portis, but more capable and determined and savvy yet.  Not to mention sweeter and kinder.

Since I love Borden Chantry, I was excited to have a couple Chantrys play such a big role in this!  L'Amour put Chantrys in quite a few of his books, which tickles me :-)

Particularly Good Bits:

"Do not let yourself be bothered by the inconsequential.  One has only so much time in this world, so devote it to the work and the people most important to you, to those you love and things that matter" (p. 38).

"How many are there?  Of the Sacketts, I mean?"
"Nobody rightly knows, but even one Sackett is quite a few" (p. 160).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for some scattered mild cussing, some violence, and lots of perilous circumstances.

This is my 28th book read from my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2023.