Thursday, February 29, 2024

"We'll Always Have Casablanca" by Noah Isenberg

I really love learning about the creative process.  Whether it is how someone writes and edits their book, how movies are made, how songs get written -- it all fascinates me.  Especially if I am familiar with the creative work in question.  So about 3/4 of this book absolutely fascinated me.  Isenberg has meticulously put together a behind-the-scenes look at how Casablanca (1942) came to be, from the writing of the stage play Everybody Comes to Rick's through the post-production editing and scoring for the film.  

I think the coolest thing I learned from this book was that almost everyone involved, aside from Humphrey Bogart and a handful of other actors and crewmembers, were actually pretty recent immigrants to Hollywood from Europe.  Many of them experienced the kind of refugee situation that is shown in the film, waiting desperately for an exit visa and hoping against hope to make it safely out of Europe before the Nazis completely overwhelmed everything and everyone.  That is going to make this film extra poignant the next time I watch it.  I had realized that, obviously, Ingrid Bergman and Paul Henreid and Peter Lorre were European and had probably come to Hollywood in part to escape the Nazi threat.  But even director Michael Curtiz was originally Hungarian, and the actors playing the Nazis in the film were mostly native Germans who had fled Germany.  Making this pro-freedom film must have been so immensely satisfying for so many involved, and yet heartbreakingly real, too.

The last couple chapters are about how the movie has influenced Hollywood and society, and I mainly skimmed those.

Anyway, if you like learning about how movies get made, this is a cool book.  For adults.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: R for discussions of sexual topics, mainly things that couldn't be shown in the film, but also sections from fairly explicit sequels that have been written over the years by people who want to fill in the things the movie only hints at or leaves open to interpretation.  You can skim those bits, but they aren't always easy to spot coming.

Friday, February 16, 2024

"Kling Klang Gloria" by Jenni Sauer

I think this may be Sauer's best book yet.  Certainly, it is her most complex book yet.  Kling Klang Gloria is a follow-up to Rook di Goo, meaning it is book two of the War on Taras series.  It reads fine as a stand-alone, but you are going to enjoy the last section more if you have already read Rook di Goo.  And, since that last section is my favorite part of the book, overall, I definitely do recommend you read the first book first.

And now you're like, um, Hamlette?  Jenni Sauer has like five other Evraft books out too?  Which you have also reviewed?  How is this book two?

I'm so glad you asked!  This is book two because it is the second book in the War on Taras series, which takes place in the Evraft Galaxy.  The other books take place there too, and they sometimes involve characters who were in these books.  And that's about as much explaining as I can do.  I suggest visiting Sauer's website or connecting with her on social media to learn more.  Or just read the books and figure it out!  That's what I did ;-)

Anyway, Kling Klang Gloria starts out as a Sleeping Beauty retelling of sorts, then morphs into a King Thrushbeard retelling.  Princess Zariya wakes up from a cryogenic sleep and discovers her planet, Taras, has been overrun by their enemies.  The palace where she grew up has been leveled and the capitol city razed.  What's left of the Tarisian population is scavenging for survival and avoiding the occupying troops as much as they can.

Zariya is welcomed back by the only remaining royal guard, Thrush, who has faithfully waited all these years for her to awaken.  Together, they set off across the planet, looking for safety and purpose, basically.  Slowly, Zariya learns what happened to her planet and her people, and she slowly picks up clues as to Thrush's past, too.  Woven throughout the book are flashbacks to how and why Zariya was frozen and what her life was like beforehand.

Zariya was viewed as a spoiled and nonsensical girl all her life, treated as if she did not have a mind or will of her own and should just be a pretty puppet.  The only person who ever understood her was a boy named Arian, her only friend, but the two drifted apart as they grew up, leaving Zariya bereft and confused more than once as Arian stepped farther and farther away from her.  Zariya loves to fix things with her hands and has a genius for mechanical things, but struggles to understand social expectations and emotional cues, which makes me assume she is meant to be somewhere on the autism spectrum.  Maybe?  

Thrush starts out didactic and gruff, but mellows as he starts to trust Zariya and protect her because he wants to, not because it's his duty.  The two grow close and begin taking hesitant steps toward a romantic relationship, but this is more a coming-of-age story than a love story.  Their romance is sweet and very slow-burn, and I liked it a lot.

Particularly Good Bits:

Funny, that living scared her more than dying did.  But she had gone to so much trouble to survive, that was exactly what she intended to do (p. 18).

People were minefields of emotions and social constructs Ziya had never learned to read no matter how hard she tried (p. 267).

They weren't perfect.  Neither of them.  But maybe they could be imperfect together (p. 395).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 for some intense situations, violence, fake marriage as a cover story that involves Zariya and Thrush sharing a bed (innocuously) multiple times, and some mentions of menstruation and tampons that might not be something younger readers would appreciate/understand.  There's no cussing, no smut, and no gore, but there are brief mentions of someone having been tortured and several instances of hand-to-hand combat and other acts of violence.

This is my 6th book read from my TBR shelves for the 2024 Mount TBR Reading Challenge.

Saturday, February 10, 2024

"A Very Bookish Romance" by Abigayle Claire, Sarah Holman, J. Grace Pennington, Kellyn Roth, and Kate Willis

I am a little sad that this is the last "A Very Bookish Holiday" title.  The series of Christian novellas has been a lot of fun, and has introduced me to some authors I might not have tried otherwise.

Like in the previous installments of this series, each novella in this collection retells a classic book, but also has the characters in the novella reading that classic and thinking about how it relates to their own situation.  Which sounds awfully meta, but I promise it works in a charming and cute way.  After all, what avid reader hasn't seen parallels between something in their life and a beloved book?  That's part of what makes reading so much fun!

Of the five novellas here, my favorites were "The Artist of Hearthstone Cottage" by Kellyn Roth and "Daisy's Heart" by Abigayle Claire.  Interestingly, those were the two that are based on books I am not very, very familiar with!

Here's a little bit about each novella:

"Daisy's Heart" by Abigayle Claire is inspired by Charlotte's Web by E. B. White, which is a book I actively avoid because I can't stand spiders.  However, I did read it as a kid, so I do remember vaguely what it is about.  But this story stands beautifully on its own -- it's about a young woman, Daisy, whose parents have died, leaving her to care for the family farm and her younger, developmentally challenged brother.  She wants to save the farm, she wants to raise her brother well and give him a good home, and she wants to maybe have time to think about going out with the kind handyman who helps her out from time to time... but she's under an awful lot of pressure.  Learning to accept help, even ask for it, is a big part of Daisy's character arc.  I happen to be writing a book that revolves around that theme myself, so this story resonated really strongly with me.

"A String of Paper Hearts" by Sarah Holman is inspired by Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.  It's about a college girl who can't stand this loud and socially awkward guy, but ends up having to spend a lot of time with mutual friends and coming to realize maybe she is way too prone to judging people on appearances.  This was a good story, but I was a bit taken aback by the repeated denunciations of anyone who likes any movie version of Austen's book that is NOT the one released in 1995.  First of all, I thought Austenites had grown past that particular nonsense a few years ago, and second of all, it was jarringly at odds with the novella's theme of not judging people for having different opinions or likes and dislikes from your own.

"Southeaster Lodge" by J. Grace Pennington is inspired by Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen.  This one was very cute, all about a girl who takes a job cleaning a family-owned resort that hides a few mysteries and secrets.  She falls for the owner's son, who manages the resort, but some poor choices in friends threaten their emerging relationship.  I really appreciated that there was no horrible John Thorpe character in this.

"The Artist of Hearthstone Cottage" by Kellyn Roth is inspired by The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte, which I have never read.  This one is set in Britain in the 1940s, unlike all the others, which are set in the USA in the present day.  I love the 1940s as a setting, so that definitely endeared the story to me.  Plus, it felt very relatable -- its about a mom struggling to balance raising her toddler with being an artist.  Her husband died during WWII, and she has moved away from everywhere and everyone she knows so she can start life over again with her son.  She makes some new friends and finds a new love interest, but needs to come to terms with her past before she can truly move forward with life.

"Lore in Love" by Kate Willis is inspired by Little Town on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  In it, a teen gets a part-time job helping watch toddlers and babies at a Christian school/daycare.  Sometimes, she gets a ride to her job from one of her mom's friends, but sometimes, it's that friend's quiet teen son who gives her a lift.  A sweet relationship slowly develops between them.  This one also features a younger sibling with developmental challenges, and the friendship between those two siblings was really lovely.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: G.  Absolutely nothing here that you couldn't read aloud to a child.

This has been my fifth book read off my TBR shelves for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge (I didn't receive my copy until it was released in 2024, but I had pre-ordered it in 2023, so it still counts!) and my third for the #CozyWinterChristianFictionChallenge

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

"Shadowed Loyalty" by Roseanna M. White

I have mixed feelings about this book.  On the one hand, White can write characters that feel so realistic that I feel like I have met them in real life.  On the other hand, when she writes a character who frustrates and annoys me, that can start to get to me.  So, this book was very well-written, and very engaging, but one of the secondary characters drove me NUTS.

Sabina's father is a mafia don.  Her fiancĂ© Lorenzo's father is one of her father's right-hand men.  Their fathers have agreed that, although their Chicago mafia organization is a family business, these two children of theirs are not to be involved in it.  They are clean, free in conscience and mind as well as in reality.  

But, can they really be free when their families are involved in so much corruption, violence, and criminal activity?  That's the question at the heart of the book.

Sabina has felt neglected and ignored by Lorenzo ever since their engagement.  She is flattered when Roman, a handsome newcomer to Chicago, pays attention to her.  Their involvement grows deeper and deeper... until one fateful day when he reveals himself as an infiltrator, a Prohibition agent who was using Sabina to get close to her father and take him down.  (This happens in the very first chapter -- it's not really a spoiler, honest.)  The bulk of the book is about Sabina and Lorenzo trying to figure out if they still want to be together, and how much their families' involvement in crime is going to affect their futures.

Roman is the secondary character who drove me crazy.  Ugh.  The guy had this unwavering fixation on Sabina that made me want to shake him pretty much every time he showed up on the page.  So annoying.  Very well-written, to be honest, but very annoying to me personally.  Might not bother you at all!

Particularly Good Bits:

"Brother Judah said once -- I don't remember when, but it stuck with me -- that forgiveness isn't a ticket you buy, a one-time thing bought and paid for.  Forgiveness is a train you choose to ride through life's journey.  You have to stay on it, even though sometimes you don't know where it's taking you" (p. 127)

People were never just what they did, or just where they found themselves.  People were never just their sins (p. 246).

The job of a candle was to shine despite the fact that the darkness could never comprehend it (p. 260).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-16 for quite a bit of non-descriptive sexual content.  As in, there are extramarital affairs going on, some side characters are prostitutes, and there are mentions of petting.  A few on-page kisses, and everything else is pretty tasteful and non-titillating, but I wouldn't hand this book to my tween daughters.  There is also some violence, including shootings and fistfighting.

This is my 4th book read from my TBR shelves for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2024 and my 2nd for the #CozyWinterChristianFictionChallenge

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Top Ten Tuesday: Be Brief

This month's first Top Ten Tuesday prompt from That Artsy Reader Girl is "Top Ten Quick Reads/Novellas."  I am only counting novellas intended for teens and adults, not middle-grade or junior fiction, because otherwise the whole list would be just my favorite books from when I was a tween/teen.  That would be fun, but not where I chose to go today.

I arranged these by alphabetical order because I didn't feel like trying to figure out which ones would be my next-favorite after Falling Snow, which is definitely tops here.  All titles are linked to my full reviews.

Corral Nocturne by Elisabeth Grace Foley (G) -- western Cinderella retelling

Falling Snow by Skye Hoffert (PG-10) -- fantasy circus Snow White retelling

The Goblin and the Dancer by Allison Tebo (PG) -- fantasy Steadfast Tin Soldier retelling

A Holiday by Gaslight by Mimi Matthews (PG-13) -- Victorian Christmas retelling of North and South

The Lilies of the Field by William E. Barrett (G) -- classic about extending a helping hand across social divides

The Reluctant Godfather by Allison Tebo (G) -- funny Cinderella retelling

A Sidekick's Tale by Elisabeth Grace Foley (PG) -- funny western

The Silent Gondoliers by William Goldman (PG) -- funny fable

With Blossoms Gold by Hayden Wand (PG) -- fantasy Rapunzel retelling

Woman in the Dark by Dashiell Hammett (PG-16) -- hardboiled detective story