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.