Sunday, December 17, 2017

"Skipping Christmas" by John Grisham

I really don't remember why I picked up this book at a library book sale a couple years ago.  My husband describes me as "determinedly Christmasy," so a book about people who decide NOT to celebrate Christmas in any way seems kind of like the opposite of something I'd enjoy.  Maybe I was going through a fit of "I should read something by a popular modern author now and then to maintain a balanced diet" or something.  Dunno.

Anyway, in Skipping Christmas, a married couple's only child goes to Peru for a year to do volunteer work.  Her parents decide not to spend several thousand dollars on Christmas stuff in her absence, but instead will go on a cruise.

Their lives fall apart.  Their neighbors harass them with Christmas carols.  Their friends worry about their mental health.  They have to work terribly, horribly hard to keep convincing themselves that this is a good idea.

And then.  It all falls apart.

In the end, this was an amusing book, but not one I loved. I know the movie Christmas with the Kranks (2004) is based on it, but I've never seen that, so don't know how good of an adaptation it is.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG/PG-13 for a couple of very minor curse words and some vague spicy content, like a brief mention of a previous office party that involved male strippers.  Not a book that's gonna interest kids, anyway.

This is my first book read and reviewed for the Literary Christmas link-up hosted by In the Bookshelf.

This is also my twelfth and (presumably) final entry into the Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2017.  Yay!  I achieved my goal of reading 12 books that I have owned since 2016 at the very latest.

Friday, December 15, 2017

My New Story -- A Christmas Gift for You!

So... I wrote a new short story.  It's a sequel to "The Man on the Buckskin Horse," but if you haven't read that yet, you will be able to enjoy this story anyway.  Here's the synopsis:
Can storytelling save a life?
Emma the warm-hearted midwife transforms into a prairie Scheherazade, using storytelling to fight death while delivering her step-daughter's baby. 
Whether you're rejoining your favorite characters from "The Man on the Buckskin Horse" or meeting them for the first time, this story of a blizzard birth on the Nebraska frontier will warm your heart any time of year.
This is the gift I hinted about the other day :-)  You can read "No Match for a Good Story" right now, for free.  How?  Just visit my official website, where you can read it online, download and print it, or even download a version to load onto your Kindle.

I will eventually have this available for free on Amazon and Barnes & Noble's website, but that's proving to take longer than I'd expected.  So for right now, this is the only place you can get this story.

It does have a page on Goodreads already, though :-)  If you want to review it there, you are welcome to do so!

Merry Christmas, my friends.  Enjoy!

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Another LOTR Read-Along: A Knife in the Dark (FOTR 1, 11)

Well, that was tense! I love that we get to see what's going on back at Crickhollow here. Fatty Bolger has a narrow escape, but it shows that Frodo's subterfuge about moving to Buckland did trick the Enemy, at least somewhat. I think this is why all nine Ringwraiths aren't in Bree. And why they don't all nine attack them at Weathertop. They split up, some going to Crickhollow, and those ones hadn't caught up yet.

Anyway, after their own narrow escape, Frodo and company head out into the wilds, and their journey turns uncomfortable, then unpleasant, and finally dangerous. I find the part with the Neekerbreekers particularly memorable, for some reason. Probably because they keep the hobbits from sleeping, which makes me feel terribly sorry for them.

I tend to think of Sauron as a Satan-figure, but here we read about "the Great Enemy, of whom Sauron of Mordor was but a servant" (p. 189). The Enemy is named Melkor, and he rebelled against the creator of Middle-earth just like Satan rebelled against God, though that's all in the backstory that's told in The Silmarillion -- it's Tolkien's sort of creation story and all about this war to regain magic gems called silmarils. Those get talked about here, and people from that farther-back history like Gil-galad and Beren and Luthien. It's a lot harder to wade through than LOTR (it's about a third as long, but took me like six months to get through), but if you get really into LOTR, The Silmarillion is worth reading one day.

We get to learn part of the story of Beren and Luthien here in that long poem that Strider recites. Beren was a mortal man, and Luthien was an elf, but they fell in love anyway. Remind you of anyone else in this book? Aragorn is descended from them via Earendil and the Kings of Numenor, and Elrond is also from their line. That's why he's called half-elven, though he's much more elf than Aragorn, who is just a teensy bit elvish and therefore mortal (but long-lived). But of course, the whole idea of a mortal man and an elvish woman falling in love is echoed in the love story of Aragorn and Arwen.

And here's a fun fact: Tolkien and his wife are buried side by side with the names Beren and Luthien on their tombstones. (And their real names too, don't worry.) It's said that he based Tinuviel on his own wife Edith, who reportedly liked to dance in the woods. So sweet!

Favorite Lines:

"What do they live on when they can't get hobbit?" asked Sam, scratching his neck (p. 178).

In that lonely place Frodo for the first time fully realized his homelessness and danger (p. 183-4).

Discussion Question:

When Strider begins to tell the tale of Beren and Luthien, he says, "It is a fair tale, though it is sad, as are all the tales of Middle-earth, and yet it may lift up your hearts" (p. 187). Do you find their story sad? Do sad stories ever "lift up your heart?"

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

"The Austen Escape" by Katherine Reay

In which I quit two other books I'm reading, right in the middle of them, because I just couldn't hold off on reading this until I'd finished them.  It sat there on, taunting me, promising all the delicious, thoughtful, engrossing fun that Reay books deliver to me.  I caved.  I read.

I mean, I WILL finish those other books.  But I had to pause them.  This was too tempting.

Was it worth it?  You betcha.  Reay's books delight me, and this was no exception.  Even though I kept wanting to shake various characters and tell them to be nicer, or more sensible, or less sensible, as the case may be.  You see, the main character, this engineer/physicist/inventor named Mary -- she has a completely horrible friend named Isabel.  Like, just the awfullest friend.  I basically could not stand Isabel through most of the book, though I did pity her.  And Mary frustrated me because she was kind of this weird mix of oblivious and pragmatic and secretive, and um... I liked her, but I didn't always sympathize with her.  

However, I reeeeeeeeeally liked Nathan.  He was all kinds of awesome -- sometimes edging into too-good-to-be-true territory and then suddenly getting all realistic and not-so-perfect-after-all.

This is not my most sensible book review ever.  Okay, so Mary works with Nathan, but won't let him know she likes him.  Her childhood friend Isabel (I use the term 'friend' really loosely here, because Isabel rarely behaves like a friend to Mary) takes Mary to... basically Austenland.  If you seen that movie or read that book, then yeah, it was kind of like that.  A big, ancient house in England where everyone dresses up like they're in Regency England and adopts names of characters from Jane Austen's books, and they all have some escapist fun.

And then Isabel's mind kind of gives away, or she has a sort of mental breakdown, or something -- it's never really labeled -- and she starts to believe she IS Emma Woodhouse.  In a much less far-fetched way than I'm making it sound.  It makes sense in the book, okay?  And Mary has to help her friend kind of work through some stuff, while Mary also works through a bunch of emotional and work-related stuff... I'm saying "stuff" too often, aren't I?

Sorry.  I could vague that up a little for you, if you'd like?  Anyway, it was a thoroughly enjoyable book :-)  Though not as overly Christian as some of Reay's others -- I'm not actually going to label it "Christian fiction."

Particularly Good Bits:

"Music is math, and once you understand that... How can anyone not be in awe?  It's the audible expression behind the laws of the universe.  it feels like the only thing, apart from God, that lives outside time.  Once released, it lives on and it can make you laugh and cry, rip you apart and heal you, all within a few discrete notes strung together.  And while it follows rules, expression is limitless" (p. 195).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG for a few mentions of things like cleavage and some mild kissing.  No sex scenes (or make-out sessions), no bad language, no violence.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Another LOTR Read-Along: Strider (FOTR 1, 10)

ACK!  How did I not post a new chapter for almost a week?  Sorry about that.

Oh, Strider, you are so lovely. I like you ever so much more in the books than the movies. You're grim and strong and wonderful. And so intriguing, with your half-hinted backstory lingering in the shadows still here. You say you're older than you look, you hint that you've dealt with the Nazgul before, and you are just altogether awesome. I remember some of your fellow Rangers will show up later in the books and being all cool and mysterious and just begging to have their own books. Sigh. Yum.

But anyway, I love how Frodo goes all suspicious in this chapter. He thinks Strider is a rascal out to swindle or trap him, he thinks Butterbur forgot Gandalf's message on purpose -- Frodo just doesn't do things halfheartedly, does he? First he's one hundred percent too careless in the previous chapter, and now he's one hundred percent too suspicious. Makes me laugh.

And good old Butterbur. Determined to guard his guests even against terrible foes. He may be a scatterbrain, but he has a stout heart.

We also hit the poem about Strider, the one on page 167 that begins "All that is gold does not glitter." I see the second line ("Not all those who wander are lost") on stuff a lot, as it's very popular for t-shirts and journals and bumper stickers.  I always get annoyed if it's quoted incorrectly -- so many people leave out the word "those," and then it's all wrong and I frown vehemently.

Oh, and we hit the "Black Breath" here too -- the Nazgul power to sort of overpower you. Remind you of the Dementors from Harry Potter? It does me.

Favorite Lines:

"Go on then!" said Frodo. "What do you know?"
"Too much; too many dark things," said Strider grimly (p. 160).

"A hunted man sometimes wearies of distrust and longs for friendship" (p. 167).

Discussion Questions:

1. Strider says that the Nazgul's "power is in terror" (p. 171). What can you think of that might be an antidote to such power?

2. How might the story have been different if Gandalf's letter had reached Frodo as intended?

Sunday, December 10, 2017

New Mailing List, New Gig, and a Hint About a Christmas Present

Like the post title says, I have three things to discuss with you today!  And they're such important things, I'm doing the same post on both of my blogs because I don't want any of my blogging friends to miss out.

First of all, I have finally started an official mailing list.  

EDIT. My thanks to everyone who signed up! Unfortunately, I am not cool with the way that the mailing list service, Mail Chimp, insists on displaying my physical mailing address to everyone who signs up for my email list. So I am going to rethink that whole mailing list thing and come up with a better, safer way to make this work.

Okay, that was thing one.

Thing two I need to tell you about?  I've been hired to write a column for the Prairie Times, a Colorado-based magazine!  They print twelve issues a year, which are also available on their website.  I'll be writing about different historical people and events from the American West.  For someone who minored in both English and History, this is basically a dream come true!!!

And thing three... is a surprise.  A Christmas present to all of you from me.  But it's not quiiiiiiite ready for you to unwrap yet, so just know that it's coming, okay?  I'm shooting for December 15, but I might have it done before then. 

Okay, that's it!  Time for me to go put up some more Christmas decorations and for you to... return to your regularly scheduled programming?  Something like this, yes :-)

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

"Christmas: The Coloring Book of Cards and Envelopes" by Rebecca Jones

This is one of the coolest coloring-book concepts ever!  I have been having so much fun with this book!  It's exactly what it says:  a collection of Christmas cards with matching envelopes that you can color yourself to send to others.

I broke down and bought a pack of 24 gel pens to share with my kids for coloring these because I thought the vibrant colors would be especially awesome.  The paper in this book is really thick and takes the color beautifully!  

Here's the front of the first card I colored:

And here's the interior:

You can see they do two cards to a page, fronts and backs on one side of the sheet and interiors on the other.  You have to cut them apart when you're done with them, so I'm happy I have a nice paper-cutter to make the cuts straight.  But a scissors would work too.

Here's another one I colored. I did mostly gel pens for these, but some colored pencils too.  Does that make this "mixed media art" perhaps?

There are so many cute designs in here!  Lots with birds or animals.  I'm working on this one next: 

And then there are the envelopes.  They're in the back of the book, one for each card.  You color them first, and then cut them out and fold along scored lines to make an envelope.  The instructions for how to do this are on the inside cover of the book.  Here's the envelope that goes with the first card I colored:

Here's the one that goes with the second card:

They have dizzying patterns for the inside of the envelopes too, but... I didn't color them.  I mean, I don't have unlimited time, and I'd actually like to send off a few of these in time to reach my friends by Christmas.

So here's the first card inside its envelope:

The book comes with stickers to use to close the envelopes because they aren't adhesive in any way.  That works pretty well, though if you were sending them through the mail, I think you'd want to tape up the flaps a bit too.  I know I will.

This is the front of the envelope:

These cards and envelopes are really big -- the cards are 5"x5" and the envelopes are slightly bigger.  So if you send them through the mail, you will need extra postage.  The book makes 24 cards in all, and I'm going to let my kids color some of them to send to grandparents and so on.  But I'm coloring my favorites myself to give to a few particular friends!