Thursday, August 24, 2023

"The Last Atlantean" by Emily Hayse

Emily Hayse's books have a kind of direct, inevitable heroism that I find enthralling.  Her prose suits other and older worlds, filled with larger-than-life heroes and heroines, villains and villainesses.  This whole book felt like a movie made in the 1950s but set a few decades earlier.  

Hattie is a lighthouse keeper's daughter living in Maine in 1912.  A stranger washes up on shore one night, and Hattie rescues him, helps nurse him back to health, and falls in love with them.

Not even halfway through the book, they get married, after he's revealed that he's not just a random sailor, he's actually Isurus, the rightful king of Atlantis.  Yes, the lost kingdom of Atlantis.  Which seems not so much lost as hidden, in this.

Of course, Isurus and Hattie go to Atlantis.  With the help of a handful of faithful followers, Isurus attempts to take down his half brother, who betrayed Isurus and then usurped the throne.  There are underwater pathways and shark battles and other exciting and dramatic things, plus a sweet and clean love story.  Just enough worldbuilding to make Atlantis a convincingly otherworldly realm, but not so much that I got bored (this is often a problem for me with fantasy books).  I found this book a healthy dose of bracing and heartening fiction, which I definitely needed.

Long live the shark king!

Particularly Good Bits:

"The only thing you can do is make choices, one after another, and hope the fates smile upon us.  No one becomes a hero, or a villain, without a choice.  Everyone has a choice" (p. 22).

Life was moving on around her, relentless as ever, but the feeling of that moment -- she would have it to hold against all dark and sorrowful times (p. 73).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG for some violence and a smidgeon of kissing.  No smut; no cussing.

This is my 45th book read from my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2023.

Sunday, August 20, 2023

"Les Miserables" by Victor Hugo


First, let me be clear: I read this book twenty-ish years ago, between my junior and senior years of college.  I also am quite happy to read very long classics.  And French classics.  The Count of Monte Cristo, which was published nearly twenty years before Les Miserables, and is at least as long and very equally French, is my second-favorite book of all time.  The problem here is not that I don't know how to read and understand books from the 1800s, that I don't appreciate the French, or that long books tire me out.

The problem here is twofold:

One, I should not have read Les Mis during the summer.  I get a mild case of summertime S.A.D. in late July that lasts through August and into September.  Les Mis was not the sort of thing I need to read during that time.  In late summer, I gravitate to dark and cool mysteries, ala Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, and to frothy romps, ala P. G. Wodehouse.  I should not have attempted to read this book during this season.  But a bunch of friends on Bookstagram got together a buddy read for it, and I have read lots of other books with them and really enjoy our discussions, so I decided to join.  Also, I'd totally read it once before (and during the summer, no less), so I knew I could finish it.  I just didn't reckon on the S.A.D. factor turning this book into a big bummer, or this book adding some extra grey tones to my S.A.D. or something.  Maybe both.

Two, Victor Hugo is not my kind of writer.  I like writers who can give me a good story, well told.  And who don't hesitate when doing so.  I do not appreciate entire chapters devoted to sarcastic remarks about famous Parisians I have never heard of and can't get the joke for.  I do not appreciate multi-chapter-long digressions about French slang.  I do not gravitate to writers who can't stay on track for more than about two chapters in a row.  I want to read about the characters that I have come to care about, and when you continuously wander off to look at the architecture or the flowers or the social customs... you lose me.  I don't care.  I care about your characters, and when you refuse to stick with those characters, I get frustrated and angry.

I think Victor Hugo needed a blog.  He needed somewhere to publish all his thoughts about heroism, sacrifice, the importance of Napoleon, the meaning of loyalty, and all the other extremely random rabbit trails he pursued throughout the book.  If he could only have had a blog, he could have pontificated about each one to his heart's content without gumming up a fiction book with them.  Perhaps he had ADHD.  Perhaps he got paid by the word.  I don't know.  

What I do know is, y'all, this book wearied me.  And, having read it twice, I don't think I ever need to read it again.  I love the musical, I love the Manga Classics version, and those will content me whenever I feel a Les Mis need.  I really love Jean Valjean, and his journey to forgiveness and insistence on living out a life of love and mercy and contentment are absolutely beautiful... and I wish Hugo would have presented that story in a coherent fashion instead of rambling like a senile old man.  I really do.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-16 for reasonably tasteful discussions of prostitution, a very frilly and oddly twee explanation of why Hugo decided not to describe a wedding night, quite a bit of violence, and a very long description of what it's like to wade through a disgusting sewer. 

This is my 17th book read for my fourth Classics club list and my 6th for my #20BooksOfSummer23 list.

Saturday, August 19, 2023

Announcing A Tolkien Blog Party for 2023

Won't you join me next month for my eleventh annual Tolkien Blog Party?  It will be the usual festive mix of party games, a blog tag, a giveaway, and lots of contributions from you, all celebrating Tolkien and his creations.

While the focus is usually on Middle-earth, reviews of or posts about Tolkien's other works, or about the professor himself, are always welcome!

This year's party will run during Tolkien Week, which ends on Hobbit Day, otherwise known as Bilbo and Frodo's birthday, September 22.

If you've never attended a Tolkien Blog Party here at the Edge of the Precipice, or if it's been a few years since you joined us, you can take a peek at last year's wrap-up to see what kinds of posts people contributed last year.

If you have some ideas of what you'd like to share during the party, but you're not sure if they'd be appropriate, just ask in the comments!  It's also fine to simply copy this year's tag to your own blog and fill it out there, or simply play the games here.  Whatever you have time for!  This is always a pretty laid-back celebration, in the fine tradition of hobbit parties. 

And, if you want to drop a comment here telling me you're hoping to participate, whether or not you have ideas of what you want to do, I'm always happy to hear from you!

Friday, August 18, 2023

"The Witch at the Edge of the Woods" by Jenni Sauer

What a beautiful, big story wrapped up in a tiny novella!  I read nearly all of this book while at my daughters' gymnastics practice, and I kept getting tears in my eyes, refusing to cry, and then sneezing from the held-back tears.  By the end of the book, I'm pretty sure the other parents nearby thought either I had the plague or really bad allergies.  Oops!

Eva Behnam lives in a cottage at the edge of the woods.  She's not exactly a witch, she simply is from another race and world than the one where she lives now, and that Elassi heritage means she has powers that the people around her don't.  So, they label her a witch.

At the beginning of the book, Eva is reeling from the worst sort of breakup, the kind where you discover the person you loved was only pretending to love you, but actually using you for some purpose of their own.  By nature a healer, Eva is discovering that your own hurts are often the hardest to heal.  But, by reaching out to those around her and helping them heal, she finds the rest and balm she needs herself.

This book is a celebration of kindness, helpfulness, friendship, patience, and perseverance.  Although it hasn't eclipsed A Little Beside You as my favorite book by Jenni Sauer, I think it may be her most beautiful book yet, inside and out.  If there was ever such a thing as cottage-core sci-fi, this is it.

Particularly Good Bits:

"My mother always said in every situation, you have two options: to either help or to hinder.  There's nowhere in the middle to rest.  And I'd rather help" (p. 50).

...the thing she hated most about friendship was allowing her friends to make choices she knew were the wrong ones (p. 71).

"You are not alone.  And you don't have to ever apologize for hurting" (p. 83).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 for difficult topics including infant loss/miscarraige, spousal abuse and child abuse (mental, physical, and emotional), and attempted marital rape (very obliquely referenced).  No cussing or smut, but some physical violence.

This has been my 44th book read from my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2023.

Thursday, August 17, 2023

"Red Harvest" by Dashiell Hammett

I have no memory of this book.  I KNOW I read all of Hammett's novels about twenty years ago.  But the title is the only familiar part about it.  I didn't even remember that the main character is the Continental Op.  Weird.  Or maybe not weird -- I read all of Hammett's novels in a row, in a big anthology I got from the library, and they did kinda smush together in my brain.  So that's probably why it didn't feel familiar.

Anyway!  I thought at first this book was going to be about fighting Communists because it actually involves a Communist agitator at the beginning, but it turns out to be about a whole lot of gangsters battling it out over control of a town.  So the titular "red harvest" really refers to all the blood that's spilled by the end, not harvesting Commies.  Or being harvested by Commies.

The Continental Op shows up in Personville for a meeting with a man who wants to hire the Continental Detective Agency for an unnamed job.  That man then dies, and it turns out he was basically the last decent, law-abiding citizen of Personville, which is nicknamed Poisonville for a good reason.  The bulk of the book is about the Op setting various gangsters and crime bosses against each other so they will take each other down and he won't have to get his hands dirty.  Except, by the end, he has to anyway.

An unpleasant book about unpleasant people?  Yes, but also... wow, so satisfying by the end when all the baddies have come to bad ends.  It was just the sort of hard, no-nonsense, smooth read I have been craving in these last, unending days of summer.  I don't love Hammett's prose the way I love Chandler's, but he has a straight-forward and slyly humorous style I enjoy anyway.

Particularly Good Bits:

"Plans are all right sometimes," I said.  "And sometimes just stirring things up is all right -- if you're tough enough to survive, and keep your eyes open so you'll see what you want when it comes to the top" (p. 85).

The machine-gun settled down to business, grinding out metal like the busy little death factory it was (p. 122).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-16 for a lot of violence and blood that somehow manages not to get excessively gory, plus some cussing, lots of alcohol and tobacco use, some laudanum use, and a lot of innuendo about why one woman is so terribly popular around town.

This is my 43rd book read from my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2023.

Monday, August 14, 2023

Hey, Guess What?!?

My latest book, My Rock and My Refuge, has been selected as a 2023 Finalist in the WILLA Literary Awards Young Adult Fiction and Nonfiction category!

God is so good!  I have dreamed of someday winning this award for pretty much the entire ten years I have been writing western novels.  To even be a finalist (which is like a runner-up) is such an honor. I thank God for blessing my writing efforts and helping me become a better storyteller with every book and story I write. To God be the glory! 

The WILLA is awarded by the Women Writing the West organization to outstanding writing focused on women and girls in the North American West. If you would like to see the list of all of this year's winners and finalists, you can find that right here on the Women Writing the West website. My Rock and My Refuge has some amazing company on that list! 

If you haven't read this book of mine yet, and you're curious what other people think about it, you can check out its reviews on Goodreads.  You can also order a copy from Northwestern Publishing House, Amazon, or Barnes and Noble.

Tuesday, August 8, 2023

"Mara, Daughter of the Nile" by Eloise Jarvis McGraw

I've got mixed feelings about this book.

On the one hand, the historical details and worldbuilding are fantastic.  I took a history class on Egypt and the Ancient Near East back in college, and reading this brought back so many good memories of that class and the professor, who was my favorite history prof.  

The characters were nuanced and believable, and mainly likeable.  I didn't like some of the things that Mara in particular did, but I understood why her history as a slave and her desperation to be free informed her choices.  And the plot was thick with intrigue and suspense, with lots of spying and sneaking and planning.  

But there was a point about four-fifths of the way through the book where I set it down in great annoyance for over a day because it started to involve Miscommunication, and I am always always always irked by Miscommunication.  It was a little less avoidable here because spies tend not to trust others easily or reveal things readily... but it also bugged me.  And I could see where it was going to lead, which it did, and I had a hard time picking the book up again after that.  But I did, because I did want to know how it ended AND I'm going to be using this book for the oldest literature class at our homeschool co-op this year.  I'm glad I finished it, as it was pretty satisfying (even if I did have to suspend disbelief about a young woman who has been beaten unconscious TWICE in the past few hours blithely walking around and not screaming when someone accidentally touches her lacerated back.  Um, no).

I don't want to give the plot away too much, so I'll just say it follows Mara, an Egyptian slave who ends up acting as a spy for rival powers in the court of Pharaoh Hatshepsut, one a leader of rebels trying to unseat the queen and the other trying to discover who the rebels are.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-10 for quite a few kisses and embraces, a young woman being beaten/whipped repeatedly, a suspenseful grave-robbing sequence, and political intrigue.

This is my 42nd book read off my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2023.