Thursday, January 25, 2024

"The Sackett Brand" by Louis L'Amour

Ladies and gentlemen, I now have a favorite Sackett, and his name is Tell.

I am probably going to have to go back and reread Sackett and Mojave Crossing now because they also star Tell Sackett, and since I now love him, I must go back and appreciate him in those.  Though, truth be told, I will probably wait to do that until I have finished reading all the Sackett books.  Then I will go back and read all of Tell's books again.  Because I have 9 books left to read yet -- he may very well be in more of them!  (Please, if you know he's in more of them, don't list them all off to me.  I want to discover who each book is about on my own.)

Anyway.  Poor Tell Sackett.  Poor, dear Tell Sackett.  He finally marries Ange, the girl he met back during Sackett and fell in love with.  And then someone kills her.  And tries to kill him.  And nearly gets away with both.  So the whole book here is Tell recovering from almost dying and then figuring out who murdered his wife and why.  And getting himself repeatedly almost-killed in the process, until he's pretty well cornered by his wife's murderer's henchmen and going to die any minute...

...and then the cavalry arrives.  Only they aren't the U. S. Cavalry, they're a whole heap of Sacketts from all across the western half of the country.  (This is not really a spoiler, because they start to congregate about halfway through the book.)  Tell's brothers Orrin and Tyrel, their cousin Lando, and some spiffy new Sacketts I hadn't met yet but look forward to meeting -- they find out there's a Sackett in trouble, and they hustle over to help as fast as they can hustle.

This book, y'all.  It hit SO many big sweet spots for me!  Cavalry arrives to save the day?  Check.  Assemble a team of heroes?  Check.  Vow to avenge someone by bringing their killer to justice?  Check.  One dude taking on a huge force and slowly whittling down their numbers through superior skills and intelligence?  Check.  Bad guys turning on each other?  Check.  Surviving by making do with what you can find in the environment around you?  Check.  I mean, it's like this book was written for me.  Wow.

So, yeah.  I loved it.  A lot.  I'm already looking forward to re-reading it.

Particularly Good Bits:

One thing I've learned over the years: never to waste time moaning about what couldn't be helped.  If a body can do something, fine -- he should do it.  If he can't, then there's no use fussing about it until he can do something (p. 23).  (This is basically my entire attitude toward worry.)

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-16 for quite a bit of violence and deadly peril, plus an off-page assault of a woman that, if it wasn't rape, was going to be except she died first.  The word 'rape' is never used, but intent is there in the subtext.

This is my third book read off my TBR shelves for the 2024 Mount TBR Reading Challenge

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

"Up from Dust: Martha's Story" by Heather Kaufman

I know we are only a couple weeks into the year.  But I suspect this is going to be my #1 favorite new read for 2024.

I already love Kaufman's contemporary fiction, The Story People and Loving Isaac.  When I learned she was writing some historical fiction set in Biblical times, I got very excited because, as you know, historical fiction is one of my favorite things to read.  And, when I found out her book would be focused on Martha from the Bible, sister to Mary and Lazarus, well... I started to count down the days until there would be advance copies available from the publisher, in hopes I could sign up to get one.  And I did!  So, this book releases TODAY, but I have already finished reading it, hugging it, crying over it, rejoicing over it.  Get yourself a copy so you can do the same!

So, I have a bit of a personal connection to Martha from the Bible, which goes way back to college.  I attended Bethany Lutheran College, and their motto is One Thing Needful, which comes from the Biblical account of Jesus visiting siblings Mary, Martha, and Lazarus at their home, and Martha being super stressed out by trying to get a meal on the table while Mary sits by Jesus and listens to him teach.  Martha asks Jesus why he won't tell her sister to help out, and Jesus says that Mary has chosen the most important, most needed thing, which is learning from him.  And, of course, the point of all that isn't that we should never serve others, or that meals are unimportant, but that we should not try to dissuade others from listening to and learning about Jesus.  Nor should we let day-to-day stresses keep us away from Jesus.

And y'all, I have heard soooooo many sermons and homilies on this Bible story.  I think they hit it in chapel once a month.  I attended chapel every day for four years.  I heard that story a LOT.  Which is good, because it's one I needed to hear a lot -- I very often get bogged down in day-to-day stresses and chores and being busy busy busy busy busy.  I need to make sure that does not get between me and learning about and from my Savior.  

Since I have such a personal connection to that account in the Bible, I have been hesitant about reading any fiction about those particular people.  Because a lot of people do NOT get the correct lesson from that account, and that always bugs me.  Too many people see it as a condemnation of acts of service, or as a way of saying "doing things" is lesser than "learning things."  It gets abused a LOT, folks.  Watch out for that.

Anyway.  I KNEW that Heather Kaufman was going to avoid those theological pitfalls.  I KNEW she was going to handle these real, historical people with respect and honor and kindness.  All of them.  And I was totally right.  She did!

Kaufman gives us a fictional Martha who is bowed almost double under the weight of guilt and sorrow and worry and fear.  The whole first half of the book is about a young Martha, in her mid-teens, trying to raise her younger sister because they have lost their mother.  Young Martha falls in love, but her life is very difficult -- her father is remote and sometimes emotionally abusive, her little sister Mary is wild and wayward, and her brother Lazarus is trying to grow to manhood before he's really ready.  Martha's young life is basically one huge mess, and yet, falling in love grounds her in a calm she has never known.

Which totally doesn't last.  This is not an easy book to read, emotionally.  It did bring tears to my eyes, more than once.  But you know how some people are like, "This book destroyed me!  You should read it!"  Well, this book did not destroy me.  It built me up.  That is the best kind of fiction.  (You should read it!)

The second half of the book is about Martha as an adult.  Her life is still chaos.  She's closed herself off from those around her, she's focused on working and doing and getting things done as much as possible, and she's... pretty much a picture of a lot of people I see every day.  Just focus on tasks so you don't have to think or feel.

Then Jesus Christ steps into this closed-up, broken, heartbroken mess that is Martha's life.  Into the wayward, searching, desperate mess that is Mary's life.  Into the confused, earnest, hopeful mess that is Lazarus's life.  And, as they come to believe that, yes, this Jesus is the Messiah that they and all Jewish people have been waiting for since a few days after the world began... their lives are transformed.  They are not fixed.  But when they stop trusting themselves for solutions, when they center their hearts on God and trust him to care for their every need, and when they stop trying to "be enough" in and of themselves, their lives truly are transformed.

I especially loved the depiction of a difficult and combative sisterly relationship being healed.  I know some sisters who have not been friends for many years, and this gives me hope that they can also one day discover that they do love each other.

This book weaves fictional lives for Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, incorporating the real events that the Bible tells us about them.  It's a masterful piece of fiction with so much truth and hope inside, that I know it's a book I will reread many times in years to come.

Particularly Good Bits:

"Worry is like a ravenous beast, child.  The more you feed him, the more he wants and the harder he'll go after it.  Take it from an old woman who knows... do not give your worry one more scrap of food" (p. 99).

I would choose to turn my eyes from what I lacked and look instead to what Yahweh in His wisdom had chosen to give me.  I would not waste this day weeping (p. 172).

"When bitterness chokes the life out of a man, he comes to love his hurt more than Adonai.  And when knowledge becomes its own reward, a man comes to love his mind more than Adonai" (p. 219).

I opened my eyes and stared at the Christ.  I didn't understand this path.  In truth, I did not want this path.  But it was the path that Yahweh had given me, and perhaps that was enough (p. 271).

"Some need no excuse for their hatred other than self-interest" (p. 280).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-10 for non-detailed references to menarche, kissing, and childbirth.  A woman dies in childbirth, which could be distressing to younger readers.  No bad language, smut, or gore, but some violence occurs off-page and we see the results.

This has been my second book read from my TBR shelves for the 2024 Mount TBR Reading Challenge and my first for the #CozyWinterChristianFictionChallenge.

Full disclosure: I received an advance copy of Up from Dust from the publisher.  I read the whole book, and my thoughts and opinions expressed here are my true ones.

Friday, January 19, 2024

Announcing the #CozyWinterChristianFictionChallenge + Giveaway

I am co-hosting a reading challenge for the next six weeks!  Through March 1, fellow Christian author Laurie Sibley and I are challenging readers to brighten the winter days by reading some Christian fiction.  We have announced this challenge on Instagram (my kick-off post is here), but you don't have to be on IG to participate!  Bloggers are welcome too.

Want to join?  It's easy!  Copy that bingo board for your own use.  Cross off the things you do between now and March 1.  You are welcome to combine prompts if you wish -- for example, you could read a Christian fiction book published before 2000 that is part of a series, and cross off two squares.  You could read a Christian fiction book by a new-to-you author that a friend recommended, and cross off two squares.  You could reread a favorite Christian fiction book while snuggled up under a cozy blanket with a cup of hot tea while it snows outside, and cross off four squares!  

The books you read for the challenge should be Christian fiction, since this is specifically a Christian fiction challenge.  However, you can decide for yourself if that means the books are labeled "Christian fiction" by the publishers or if they are simply written by an author who professes to be a Christian.  For example, even though The Lord of the Rings is not explicitly Christian fiction, J. R. R. Tolkien was a Christian, and his writing is imbued with Christian themes and truths even though he does not mention Jesus Christ or the Bible in the books.  

As you cross things off, you can also use those as entries for the giveaway!  Every square crossed off counts for one entry, and has a corresponding entry button in the giveaway widget.  Every bingo you make (four crossed off in a row, horizontal or vertical or diagonal) counts for an extra four entries via the giveaway widget.  

And, if you want a few extra entries, you can get those by subscribing to our author newsletters!  You can sign up for mine here, and for Laurie Sibley's here.  If you do subscribe to either/both of those, don't forget to enter that into the giveaway widget to get your entries!

For your convenience, here is the giveaway widget:

You can also access that widget by visiting this link.

Feel free to share this with friends!  The more, the merrier :-)

Monday, January 15, 2024

Do You Like Sibling Stories?

Over on my other blog, Hamlette's Soliloquy, I've just announced that I'm hosting a blog party next month.  We Love Sibling Stories Week will run February 19-23, and you are cordially invited to join the fun!  For more info, you can check out the announcement post here.

Saturday, January 13, 2024

"The Legend of Bass Reeves" by Gary Paulsen

Funny thing: I thought I had read this book before.  I assigned it to one of my homeschool co-op classes to read for this month, remembering it as an exciting recounting of Bass Reeves's adventures as a U. S. Marshal in the Old West.  I started reading it this week to have it fresh in my mind for our discussion next week... and discovered I had actually only read the last 50 pages or so before.  About half of the book is actually about Bass growing up in slavery in Texas.  Then it explores why he ran off to Indian Territory as a young man, and how he found friendship and belonging there among the Creek tribe.  Only the last third is about his career as a lawman.

The book is fictional in that Paulsen writes about Bass's life as if he was writing a novel, with all kinds of situations and dialog that are supplied by the author.  Historians really know very little about Bass Reeves's early life growing up in Texas, so a lot of that is filled in based on typical conditions and experiences of that time and place.  The subtitle of the book is Being the True and Fictional Account of the Most Valiant Marshal in the West, which gives you an idea of how this is a blend of real and imaginary things.

It's actually a deeper, richer book than I remembered... but also a bit sterner stuff than I would ordinarily have assigned to my 3rd-thru-5th-grade class.  I don't know if the reading level is above them, but there's some content here that I might have shied away from for them, such as a handful of bad words, mentions of torture and massacre (very lightly described, but could be really hard for very sheltered or sensitive kids to read about), and a pretty serious look at life as a slave.  (There's also a whole introduction that I would just advise most kids skip, to be honest.)  It does address the kinds of racism that Bass faced, and did an okay job pointing out that black, white, and native peoples all had different prejudices that worked against their getting along together.  It felt a little heavy-handed with that once or twice, but overall I think it was a really fair and sensible depiction of the era.

Anyway... class time next week could be interesting!  Happily, most of the kids in that class are into books like Goosebumps, so I don't think they'll find it scary.  And none of them are what I would consider quite sheltered.  We shall see how it goes!  I do know one of the nine-year-olds was about half done with it when I bumped into him earlier this week, and when I asked him what he thought of it, he said it was really interesting and not hard to read.  SO... it will probably be fine.  But I have definitely learned my lesson about relying on my memory about books I haven't read/reread within the last few years!

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 for the aforementioned scattering of bad language, as well as non-detailed descriptions of torture and massacre (naked dead bodies and scalpings are mentioned, along with vague description of mutilation, such as referring to "people being cut up").  The word 'rape' is used once in the book, but not defined, and the word 'prostitute' is used in the introduction, but not defined. 

Because it turns out I actually hadn't read most of this book before, I am counting it as my first read for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge this year.

Tuesday, January 9, 2024

"Best Shot in the West: The Adventures of Nat Love" by Patricia C. McKissack and Frederick L. McKissack Jr., illustrated by Randy DuBurke

What a fun and engaging way to present the life of "Deadwood Dick," also known as Nat Love, one of the Old West's premiere cowboys!  This fast-paced graphic novel presents Nat Love's life and adventures in a way that mixes the flavor of tall tales with a healthy dollop of facts.  It's written as if an aging Nat Love is writing down his experiences for a newspaperman, which is a fun way to frame the stories, especially since they are all taken from Love's autobiography.

Is this a 100% factual biography?  Nope, and it doesn't pretend to be.  The authors acknowledge that, while historians are pretty sure Love embellished some of his adventures, there are quite a few that have been verified by outside sources.  Instead of trying to sort the totally true from the exaggerated, they simply picked a nice collection that showcase the diversity of Love's adventures.

Nat Love was born into slavery in Tennessee in 1854.  He left home in his mid-teens and went west, working as a cowboy for twenty years and gaining fame for his prowess as a horse-breaker and bronc rider, as well as his skill with a rope and gun.  If you want to learn more about him, I wrote an article about Love for the Prairie Times a few years ago, which you can read online here.  Or you can find a copy of this graphic novel and read that!

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for a little rough language and some mild mentions of violence.

Saturday, January 6, 2024

"The Mistletoe Countess" by Pepper Basham

Do you ever thoroughly enjoy a book, except for one small aspect of it?  Or, do you ever want to recommend a book to lots and lots of people, but feel like you have to attach a caveat to that recommendation?

This is that kind of book, for me.

I loved the characters.  I mean, full-on loved them.  And you know that usually means I will love a book.  My goodness, Gracelynn was infectiously loveable -- never quite so abounding in endless optimism as to be a "manic pixie dream girl," and never quite so flawed that I lost patience with her.  She was simply a very believable eighteen-year-old woman of 1913, with lots of energy and enthusiasm and imagination.  In fact, she reminded me of a more-outgoing version of Catherine Morland from Northanger Abbey, as I suspect she is meant to.

And then there's Frederick, Grace's new husband.  Mysterious.  Handsome.  Reticent.  Hesitant.  Hopeful.  Despairing.  Jaded.  Yearning.  In other words, just the sort of fictional hero I tend to fall for.  Add in that he was very kind and helpful, and also very respectful of his new wife, and yet never too-good-to-be-true.

And I loved the romance.  Grace and Frederick enter into an arranged marriage of convenience, under very inauspicious circumstances -- a marriage that Grace instigates, by the way.  I usually don't like the whole marriage-of-convenience trope, as it almost always feels forced and contrived.  It made sense here.  As did the fact that it was an arranged marriage (of sorts).  But the best part was Basham's treatment of marital intimacy.  She portrayed it perfectly -- as a joyful joining of two people's hearts, minds, and bodies.  

We are not subjected to bedroom scenes, but we fully appreciate that both wife and husband enjoy each other thoroughly, and that their intimate moments serve to enhance their appreciation of each other in other aspects of their lives as well.  This is not portrayed in a smutty or titillating way at all -- I never once felt like I should skim ahead or skip whole paragraphs (or pages).  And that is absolutely phenomenal.  I have never, ever read a book that treated marital intimacy in such a wholesome, healthy, practical, and uplifting way.  So commendable.

The mystery was interesting, the side characters were all well-rounded, and the setting was great.  Most of the historical details were just right.  (I was really annoyed at the very end, though, when Grace and Frederick gave someone a copy of Ulysses by James Joyce -- this book takes place in 1913, and Ulysses was not published until 1921.  A twelve-second internet search turns up that info, and both author and editor[s] should absolutely have caught that.  Badly done.)


The writing just occasionally... hitched.  There were word choices scattered randomly about that made no sense, or that alllllllmost made sense.  Like saying someone should use a spyglass to look at a clue -- clearly, they mean magnifying glass. 'Spyglass' is not simply a synonym for 'magnifying glass,' folks.  It's a small, hand-held, collapsible telescope.  Think pirates, not Sherlock Holmes.  The other glitches were similar -- as if someone wanted to make the writing more interesting and tried substituting "unusual" words for the correct words, only those unusual words didn't actually fit.  

I am just going to have to say that the storytelling and characterization and plotting and dialog are all excellent here, but this book needed a better editor.  If glitchy word choices don't bug you (and they probably really don't bug like 90% of readers!), then you might very well love this book with no reservations!

Particularly Good Bits:

Romance and marriage proved such daunting prospects in reality, but hidden within the pages of her beloved books, their appeal sparkled with magic and mystery (p. 10).

A deep surge of protection rose within him.  He hadn't been able to shield his own innocent heart, but he could attempt to protect hers (p. 96).

The world took on a ruddy glow through her eyes, and his life of loneliness came alive with colors and beauty and hope (p. 101).

"Grandfather would say, 'Kindness is your most valiant weapon.  People may fight against many things, but against kindness, they fall unprepared'" (p. 103).

Was marriage truly supposed to be this delightful?  Clandestine kisses in the study?  Stormy nights of passion?  Enchanting discussions about anything from fiction to architecture?  She hadn't read a single book that painted a picture of marriage remotely close to this (p. 286).

"You are soul mates by choice and will.  How closely you wrap your souls around one another is of your own choosing" (p. 194).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-16.  Like I said, the love portrayed here never felt titillating or dirty, but I still would not let a young teen read this.  There is quite a bit of on-page kissing and such.  Their minds don't need to stray these directions just yet.  There is no bad language, but there is some violence and several scenes of characters in peril, even deadly danger.  

Wednesday, January 3, 2024

Reading Goals Behind and Ahead

I had a few goals for my reading life in 2023.  The same sort I usually have, like clear off my TBR shelves some more, read some classics, read diversely, and so on.  Here's how I did with my 2023 reading goals:

Overall Goal

I aimed to read 55 books in 2023.  I read 96.  Yay!

Classics Club

I wanted to read at least twelve books from my fourth Classics Club list.  I read fourteen!  You'll find all their reviews on that page or right here.

Diverse Reading

I wanted to read at least twelve books by or about people who are different from me in some significant way.  I read fifteen!  You can find reviews for most of them right here.


I had twin goals of reading at least 50 books from my TBR shelves AND whittling down the number of unread books on my shelves to 450.  I read 61 books from the to-be-read books I own, but I only got the number of unread books on my shelves down to 491.  Well, that's still better, anyway.

My Years with the Sacketts

I set myself the goal of reading all nineteen Sackett books by Louis L'Amour over the course of 2023 and 2024.  I have read the first nine, so I am confident I can finish them all by the end of 2024.

Now for my 2024 reading goals!

Overall Goal

I like the number 55.  I'm keeping that for my goal.

Classics Club

Twelve seems like a good number here.  But I'll give myself some wiggle room in my bullet journal, just in case.

Diverse Reading

I also like aiming for twelve for this goal.  But, as you can see, I'm also giving myself room for more than that in my bullet journal.  Just in case!

Mount TBR

Because the Unread Shelf Challenge has come to an end, I am once again joining the Mount TBR Challenge from My Reader's Block.  I am aiming for the Mount Ararat level, which means reading 48 books from my TBR shelves -- but only books I already own by January 1, 2024, will count.  This makes it much more challenging, so we'll see how that goes!  I'm going to continue keeping track of how many books I buy and how many I take off my shelves, too, even though those aren't part of the Mount TBR challenge.

Disney Origins Bookclub

This fun reading challenge has returned to Bookstagram!  I want to read the four fairy tales that are scheduled, plus at least three of the books.  To learn more, and/or join, click here.

Jane Austen Deep Dive 2024

This is another Bookstagram reading group challenge -- we're going to read all six of Jane Austen's major works together, but very slowly.  I aim to read all of them, specifically the annotated editions.  To learn more about that, and/or join, click here.

My Years with the Sacketts

I have ten Sackett books by Louis L'Amour left to read for this personal challenge!  My teen son has been reading them as I finish them, which has been such a great experience for us both, giving us lots of wonderful heroes and heroines to talk about.

That's all for this year!  How about you?  Do you set reading goals?  Participate in challenges, or make your own?  Do tell!

Tuesday, January 2, 2024

Top Ten Tuesday: My Favorite Reads of 2023

Our first Top Ten Tuesday prompt from That Artsy Reader Girl for 2024 is all about looking back over our reading from the past year and picking our top reads.  As usual, I am doing two lists, one of my top ten favorite new reads, and one of my top ten favorite re-reads.  I've linked each title to my review here on my blog, and provided a little info about each book as well, including its publication year.

My Ten Favorite New Reads:

1. Code Name Edelweiss (PG-16) by Stephanie Landsem, 2023 -- Christian historical fiction spy story set in Hollywood during the build-up to WWII

2. A Deed of Dreadful Note (PG) by Patricia Meredith, 2023 -- Christian historical fiction murder mystery based on the life of mystery novelist Anna Katherine Green

3. High Lonesome (PG-16) by Louis L'Amour, 1962 -- western adventure about strangers banding together against terrible foes

4. Murder on Black Swan Lane (PG-13) by Andrea Penrose, 2017 -- historical fiction murder mystery set in Regency England

5. A Right to Die (PG-13) by Rex Stout, 1964 -- a Nero Wolfe murder mystery involving the Civil Rights Movement

6. Beauty (G) by Robin McKinley, 1978 -- gentle and wholesome fantasy retelling of Beauty and the Beast

7. The Lilies of the Field (G) by William E. Barrett, 1962 -- sweet story of finding common ground despite outward differences

8. And Then There Were None (PG-16) by Agatha Christie, 1939 -- classic murder mystery about people trapped on an island

9. In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson (PG) by Bette Bao Lord, 1984 -- middle grade book about a Chinese immigrant family in the 1950s

10. The Vanderbeekers on the Road (G) by Karina Yan Glaser, 2022 -- middle grade book about a family road trip

My Ten Favorite Re-reads:

1. The Hound of the Baskervilles (PG) by A. Conan Doyle, 1902 -- classic Sherlock Holmes mystery

2. The Blue Castle (PG) by L. M. Montgomery, 1926 -- classic about a woman stepping out into life from the shadows

3. Shane (PG) by Jack Schaefer, 1949 -- western about a loner who adopts a family

4. The Black Stallion (PG) by Walter Farley, 1941 -- middle grade classic about a boy and wild horse who rescue each other

5. Playback (R) by Raymond Chandler, 1958 -- hardboiled detective mystery starring Philip Marlowe

6. The Enchanted April (G) by Elizabeth von Arnim, 1922 -- classic about four women who discover their true selves in Italy

7. Borden Chantry (PG) by Louis L'Amour, 1977 -- western murder mystery

8. Jane of Austin (PG-13) by Hillary Manton Lodge, 2017 -- Christian fiction retelling of Sense and Sensibility set in modern-day Texas

9. By the Great Horn Spoon! (PG) by Sid Fleischman, 1963 -- middle grade classic tall tale about the Gold Rush

10. Big Red (PG-10) by Jim Kjelgaard, 1945 -- middle grade classic about a boy and the dog he loves

You can see all my lists of favorite reads since 2014 on this page.

Check back later this week for a more fulsome look at my 2023 reading, including how I did with various challenges and so on!