Thursday, May 30, 2024

"Stuff Every Gardener Should Know" by Scott Meyer

Let us be clear: I did not read this book cover-to-cover.  I skipped swaths of it that had nothing to do with the kind of gardening I do right now.  I gave up growing tomatoes when the local groundhogs got spiteful one night, climbed over and through my layers of fencing, and took one bite out of each tomato.  Rude!  The ground around here isn't great for vegetables anyway, without loads of enrichment.  We do have an asparagus bed, but that's my husband's baby.  Me, I tend a couple of rose bushes and azaleas, and random rings of daffodils around the yard, but my main gardening focus is my container flower garden on our deck.

So, I skipped the sections in this book about food and concentrated on the sections about flowers and landscaping and problem-solving.  Those had lots of good nuggets of wisdom, and I have added a couple of lemon balm plants to my flower garden in hopes that they really do help cut down on mosquitoes like lavender does.

This is really more of a book you consult when you're having a question about gardening, and it's filled with lots of good tricks and tidbits.  I knew some of them, I learned others, and I will go back and learn more in the coming years, I'm sure!

Saturday, May 25, 2024

"Balefire" by Deborah Koren

Balefire centers on a refugee named Rain who has been focusing solely on survival, caring more about finding her next meal than about the fate of her homeland.  But when she finds a magical relic that Crown Prince Orin Balefire is desperate to acquire, all that changes.

Then there's Reece Railey, a loyal guard for Orin Balefire who's faced with a sudden moral choice that puts him on the prince's hit list.  Together, Reece and Rain flee with the magical relic.  They meet an aged enchanter who reveals that, although magic has long been outlawed in their kingdom, it still flourishes unseen.  If they revive old magical practices, they could use the relic to stop Orin's destructive plans.  But that will bring magic back to the surface all across the kingdom, Orin could twist it in ways that would destroy everyone. 

This book is adult fantasy, not YA, but that doesn't mean it's filled with "adults-only" content.  The book centers on a firm, platonic friendship between the two main characters, though there is a romance between some side characters.  There is enough violence that I am not sure I'll hand this to my tween, but I bought my older teen son a copy of his own, and he enjoyed it.  This isn't "Christian fantasy," and does have some bad language, but I can recommend it for older teens and adults without a qualm.

Particularly Good Bits:

"The world is full of people, working together, working against each other, working deliberately, and many times working unintentionally toward ends of which they’re not even aware. You can only be here and now, doing this one thing" (p. 213-214).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-16 for violence, torture, a sprinkling of cuss words, and very very mild innuendo (such as a man missing the woman who "warms his bed" -- nothing smuttier than that).

Full disclosure: Deborah Koren is my best friend, and I edited and proofread this book.

Thursday, May 23, 2024

"The Lantern's Dance" by Laurie R. King

Another winner from Laurie R. King!  The Lantern's Dance is the eighteenth Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes book, and a thoroughly enjoyable entry into the series.

This review contains SPOILERS for the series, not just for this book, so beware!  Jump to the movie-style rating if you want to avoid spoilage.

Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes already on their way to France when Holmes's son, Damian Adler, alerts them to the fact his home has been broken into.  Fearing that some of their enemies may try to hurt them through Damian, his young daughter, and his new fiancée, they rush to the rescue.  While Holmes ensures that Damian and company are hidden away safely, Russell investigates the break-in and ends up delving into long-buried family secrets.

Like Locked Rooms, this is one of the more deeply personal books in the series.  This time, it is Holmes who confronts past trauma and woe, as he grapples with remember his mother's suicide when he was a boy. But this book has a very happy ending indeed -- much happier than I expected for a long time!  I found it very satisfying.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 for oblique references to the impropriety of a man and his fiancée sharing a house, then a hotel room, and for the unsettlingly modern reaction of most characters to this behavior.

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

"Mustang Man" by Louis L'Amour

I liked this one all right.  It was an enjoyable and fast-paced read, but I didn't love it.  I'm not sure why, either, as the story was solid, and Nolan Sackett was an interesting character.  But he felt a little detached, as a narrator, or maybe like he was trying to distance himself and the readers from the story in a way?

The storyline is good stuff -- Nolan Sackett, who could be a hero but is often labeled an outlaw, falls afoul of a witch.  Well, not a witch, really, but a sociopathic woman who likes to poison people and torture people and kill people.  Anyway, he escapes her clutches and then encounters a Wise Old Mentor who gives him tools and advice.  Then he finds a Woman in Distress and helps her seek out a treasure.  It's very myth-based storytelling, if you can't tell, and I usually really like that! 

You know, now that I've been mulling over it a bit, I think I know what the problem is.  I didn't really like the main female character, Penelope.  She didn't get as well-fleshed-out as most of L'Amour's heroines, and so I never got a chance to know her, and that means I didn't get invested in Nolan's desire to help her and his secret hope that she might see him as more than a crooked-nosed outlaw.

Oh well -- not every Sackett book needs to be my favorite!

Particularly Good Bits:

I knew I wouldn't get anywhere now trying to run; and when it comes to that, I am not a man who cares to run, unless it's toward something (p. 37).

It was always as Ivanhoe that I saw myself, and always as the Norman knight that I was being seen by others (p. 73).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for violence, non-detailed descriptions of someone who has been tortured, and a brief mention of prostitution.  Also some mild cussing.

This has been my 13th book read off my TBR shelves for the 2024 Mount TBR Reading Challenge.

Thursday, May 9, 2024

"Beowulf: Dragonslayer" by Rosemary Sutcliff

I didn't grow up knowing the story of Beowulf.  I'd heard the name and knew it was some kind of Norse legend or something, but my first real contact with it was going to see The Thirteenth Warrior (1999) with my college bestie.  She told me it was a retelling of Beowulf, and that intrigued me because I loved the movie, but I was busy with reading-heavy college courses and simply didn't have time to find and read any versions of the myth.  Plus, based on how things go in the movie, I wasn't sure I wanted to read it, even though I have seen the movie at least a dozen times over the years.  The fate of Buliwyf in the film just felt like.... reading this will make me sad.

Over the years, I've learned a bit more about the story -- thanks to all those college lit courses, I knew things about its place in literary history, but I still haven't read a full version of it.  However!  I did read Rosemary Sutcliff's classic retelling for kids today, and it was really fun.  I have J. R. R. Tolkien's translation on my TBR shelves, and reading this has bumped it up a lot higher on my to-read list.  


Because all these years, I thought Beowulf died slaying Grendel's mother!  I was today years old when I learned that nope, he lived a long and successful and battle-glory-filled life before dying while slaying a dragon.  What?!?!?  I am so happy!  This is awesome!  I'm suddenly a fan.  

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG.  Totally appropriate for kids.  Yes, there's death and violence, but it's the good kind -- heroes defeating monsters to protect others.  

I'm counting this as my 24th book read for my 4th Classics Club list because not only does it retell one of our absolute oldest stories, it's by a well-known and important author, and more than 50 years old.

Saturday, May 4, 2024

"The Smoking Iron and Other Stories" by Elisabeth Grace Foley

I think this is Foley's best short story collection yet!  Also, how marvelous is that cover?  I absolutely love silhouettes, and the colors in that sky here are so delightful!

This is a collection of seven short stories, all set in the American West, but not all in the classic "Cowboy Era" of the 1860s-1880s.  In fact, some are set in the 20th century!  

Here's a bit of what I thought about each story:

"Dakota Clothesline" made me angry.  This is not a great way to start a review, and I promise I liked the rest of the stories, but this one gets a huge red X from me.  No parent of a helpless infant has any business leaving that infant alone to go out into a life-threatening situation.  Sure, this mother did so to try to save her husband's life during a blizzard, but if she had gotten lost or otherwise died in that blizzard, she was dooming her child to a slow and horrible death by starvation.  That is absolutely unacceptable behavior, and I will never condone it.  Parents who abandon a child to try to rescue another adult make me furiously angry, and I don't care who knows it.

"The Heiress and the Horse-Trade" was pleasingly clever in places, though the main character annoyed me a little by getting herself into such a predicament in the first place.  Money should be left in the bank where it's safe, not toted all about the countryside just because you want to show it to someone.

"Sheep Need a Shepherd" was my favorite.  In fact, I would buy this book solely for this one story, even if I disliked all the others.  A minister with a young family takes a call to a church in a town surrounded by ranchers, only to have lots of trouble with the ranchers because of his unorthodox side job that he takes on to put food on his family's table since the church is too small to fully support him.  As a pastor's daughter, I am very particular about how ministers are portrayed in fiction, and I absolutely loved this fictional preacher.

"Professor Pruitt's Circulating Concert Company" made me chuckle aloud.  A young man tries to run away from home and join a troupe of entertainers, but mishaps abound.  

"Lark's Nest" was poignant and thought-provoking.  A young woman tries hard to be a hearthkeeper for her grandfather and her brothers, but her efforts seem useless for a long time.  Good stuff.

"Big Aspen" was a solid coming-of-age story, but also dealt with the difficulties of coming back home to 'normal life' after WWII.  In some ways, it reminded me of The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), but make it a western instead.  It was my second-favorite story in the book.

"The Smoking Iron" was very exciting, and almost to tense for comfort!  A young man is accused of stealing cattle by changing their brands and has to find a way to prove his innocence.  Good stuff.

Particularly Good Bits:

"If there's one thing I've been convinced of -- maybe believed more strongly than anything else, ever since I first felt called to preach - it's just that one thing: the gospel is sufficient.  If I ever tried to preach in any way apart from that, I wouldn't be any good for anything." ("Sheep Need a Shepherd")

"I never have appreciated being told what's the Christian thing to do by people who aren't Christians." ("Sheep Need a Shepherd")

And even if no one saw or noticed, she must be faithful in the little things and trust that it would all matter in the end. ("Lark's Nest")

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for some violence and threats of violence in several stories.  No cussing; no smut.

I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.  I was not required to review it.  All thoughts and opinions here are my own.