Monday, August 14, 2017

Announcing This Year's Tolkien Blog Party!

Yes, I'm totally doing a Tolkien Blog Party for the fifth year!  Like every year, there will be a tag you can fill out, a giveaway, and some games.  It will run for all of Tolkien Week, which is September 17-23 this year.

Here are some buttons for you to share!

Hope to see you there :-)

Friday, August 11, 2017

"Every Frenchman Has One" by Olivia de Havilland

I have been having such a delightful string of books lately!  Been a good summer for reading, I guess.  Maybe it's because I've been reading a lot off my TBR shelves, and I wouldn't have bought these books if I hadn't thought they sounded like something I'd enjoy?  I don't know.

Anyway, about Olivia de Havilland's memoir.  It's hilarious.  Like, Dave Barry hilarious.  I laughed aloud soooooooooo many times while I read this book!  I wish it was four times as long, because I was absolutely not ready for it to be finished.

Ms. de Havilland wrote this in 1962.  She had married a Frenchman and moved to France a few years earlier, though she still came back to the US to make movies now and then.  The only one she really mentioned was The Proud Rebel (1958), which pleased me no end, of course, because that co-stars my beloved Alan Ladd.  She never talked about him, but whatever.  The book is all about what it's like to adjust to living in France after living in the USA all your life.  And when I say she can make the story of repainting their new home into a laugh-inducing tale of woe, you know this must be good, right?

Oh, another thing that made me laugh was the title of the very first chapter:  "I'm not at all sure if you know that I'm alive..."  That cracked me up because fifty-five years after this book was written, she's still alive.  Ms. de Havilland turned 101 in July, and she still lives in Paris.  Astonishing woman.

More than anything, this book made me want to hang out with her and be her friend.  I am not more firmly a fan of hers than ever, and I wouldn't be surprised if she became one of my ten favorite actresses before long.  

Oh, and what does every Frenchman have?  Not a mistress or a drinking problem or a beret.  It's a liver.  Every Frenchman has a liver.  If you want to know what on earth she could find to write about that, read the book.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: a gentle PG-13 for a few tastefully handled anecdotes about somewhat bawdy subjects.  

This is my fifth book read and reviewed for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2017.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

#RebelliousWriting -- Where Have All the Clean YA Books Gone?

If you read my other blog, you may have read this post last week, in which I announce that I'm joining the #RebelliousWriting movement, which is all about encouraging writers to create clean fiction for teens and younger readers.  I'll be posting more about this in the future, like when the official website launches on August 9.  

For the past few years, I've been putting a movie-style rating on the books I review here, and mentioning what kind of content the book has so that my blog readers will know if they'll be comfortable reading it.

Today, I'm debuting a brand new page for this blog!  If you look up at the top of the page, you'll see a page marked "#RebelliousWriting Reading List."  That is exactly what it sounds like -- my suggestions of clean, enjoyable books that I think teens (and adults) would enjoy.  Some of them are classics.  Some of them are brand-new.  Some of them fall in between the two.  But every book on it would NEVER receive a rating higher than PG-13 if it were a movie.  I will add new books to that list as I encounter them, so whenever you're looking for something new to read, that list might give you some ideas.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

"Snow White" by Matt Phelan

Does it ever happen to you where someone mentions a book, and you're like, "Whoa, that could be cool!" and then you get it... and it is way cooler than you could possibly have imagined?  And then you love it so much, you re-read it immediately.  And then you re-read it again quick before you have to take it back to the library.

Yeah, that's totally what happened with this book, for me.  Someone in the Rooglewood Fairy Tale Contest Facebook Group mentioned this graphic novel that turned the Snow White story into a noir story set in the 1930s, and I was like, "I MUST READ THIS."  And the library had it!  So I got it.  And I read it.  And now I've read it three times, and I want my own copy.  Because wow, it is just brilliant.

I was going to scan in some of my favorite panels, but then I found the official book trailer on YouTube, and it has so many of the good ones that I'm just sharing that here instead.

See?  It's no wonder I fell in love with this book.

If This was Actually a Movie Instead of Me Just Wishing It was, I Would Rate It: PG for some images that would probably scare young children, like the stepmother as an old hag and the guy chasing Snow with a knife.

Monday, July 31, 2017

"The Big Sleep" by Raymond Chandler

I always have a terrible problem when reading Raymond Chandler.  I want to zip through to the end because his mysteries are so gripping, but at the same time, I want to read them slowly so I can savor his writing.  I want to pause and relish the flavor of his words, roll them around in my head, revel in their distinctive wonder.  But I also want desperately to know what happens next.  Even though I've read all his novels and short stories before and vaguely remember how they go, I still get sucked straight into them.

The Big Sleep is the first thing by Raymond Chandler I ever read.  I read it in high school, in a collection of "great mysteries" that my parents had on a high shelf in our basement.  That collection was also my first introduction to Leslie Chartris' Simon Templar and Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca, and I devoured the collection secretly, stealing time to read between school assignments.  (I probably could have finished high school in two years if I hadn't done this sort of thing all the time.)

I have to admit, the first time I read this, around the age of 17, I just zipped through it and on to the next book in the collection.  I liked the noir feel of it, I knew Philip Marlowe was a famous detective, and I knew there was a movie version of this starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall that I'd been wanting to see for a while.  But I didn't exactly savor and relish and revel in the words.  Not yet. But eventually, I wised up.

What draws me to Chandler's novels, besides the perfect, unexpected, gleaming writing?  It's not the plots -- this one is twisted, yet thin, and Chandler himself admitted he had no idea who killed that poor chauffeur.  Nope, it's Philip Marlowe himself.  You know I have to want to be friends with the characters in a book if I'm going to love the book, and that is 100% the case here.  I would love to befriend Philip Marlowe.  He could use a good friend.  He's such a complex guy -- such a brilliant mix of cynicism and hope.  He has no faith in people, but he wishes that he did.  He's in a dirty business, but he's not a dirty guy.  As Chandler said in an essay about hardboiled mysteries, "Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid."  That's Marlowe all over -- not mean, not afraid, and not tarnished by all the foul things he has to investigate, encounter, and do.  Man alive, I love that guy.  I once named a camera after him, actually.

And that's what separates Chandler from my other two favorite writers, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway.  I admire all three of them for the way they write, but I also love what Chandler writes, whereas Fitzgerald and Hemingway's stories are generally not things I love.  (Yes, I'm the same person who just led a read-along of The Great Gatsby.  I don't love Gatsby, but I do enjoy that one, at least.  I enjoy a couple of Hemingway's too.)  Interesting that they were all writing in the early part of the 20th century.

I suppose I should mention what the plot of The Big Sleep is.  Well, there's this old millionaire with two badly behaved daughters.  He hires Marlowe to figure out who's blackmailing him about some gambling debts one of the daughters incurred.  But really he wants to know if his ex-son-in-law is behind it.  By the time Marlowe solves things, he'll have to deal with pornographers, murderers, extortionists, gamblers, and those wayward daughters.  All handled in a remarkably tasteful way, really.  Except for his homophobia -- that's not tasteful, but it's also not surprising given this was written in the 1930s.  Many modern readers would find it shocking, I'm sure.  Much as I love Marlowe, I admit he's not perfect.  He wouldn't be realistic if he was.

Particularly Good Bits:

Under the thinning fog the surf curled and creamed, almost without sound, like a thought trying to form itself on the edge of consciousness (p. 150).

I was as empty of life as a scarecrow's pockets (p. 159).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  A hard PG-13 for sexual matter handled in a non-explicit way, bad language, and violence.

I know a lot of people don't consider Chandler's books to be classics.  I do.  I think we'll be reading and marveling over them for hundreds of years, long after we've forgotten who lesser crime fiction authors ever were.  And I'm not just saying that out of loyalty to him because he's my favorite author -- I really think he's that good.  So this is my 11th book read and reviewed for my second go-round with The Classics Club.

This is also my 7th book read and reviewed for the Adventure of Reading Challenge hosted by Heidi Pekarek.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

"Careless People" by Sarah Churchwell

I started reading this during my read-along for The Great Gatsby because it's all about what was going on in F. Scott Fitzgerald's life and the world around him while he was writing, editing, and publishing Gatsby.  I didn't have time in June to finish it because it was much more intensive and engrossing than I was expecting.  I thought I'd skim through it for the more salient points, but nope, I had to read the whole thing.  It was too good to skim!

The subtitle of this book, "Murder, Mayhem, and the Invention of the Great Gatsby," refers to what is called the Hall-Mills murder case, a real-life unsolved murder in New Jersey that took place in 1922 right about the same time Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald moved to New York City for a time.  The case was huge news, and Fitzgerald certainly read about it in the papers, for Churchwell found instances where he referred to it in correspondence and so on.  The two murder victims were having an extra-marital affair with each other that bears some resemblance to Tom Buchanan's affair with Myrtle Wilson in The Great Gatsby, and Churchwell draws out many similarities between the cases, making the point that it may have influenced Fitzgerald as he came up with the ideas behind Gatsby.

But the book is about much more than that.  Churchwell also delves deeply into Gatsby and the themes of wealth, power, and social class.  She shows the world around Fitzgerald that he was trying to capture and the many things and people that influenced him as a writer.  Then she goes on to discuss the critical and popular reception of The Great Gatsby and how perceptions of it changed over the years.  There's way more in this book than I can discuss here, so I just want to touch on two things Churchwell discussed about Gatsby that really interested me.

First, I was fascinated by the parallels she drew between the characters of Myrtle Wilson and Jay Gatsby.  I had not noticed them until this, but now they're so obvious I don't see how I missed them.  Churchwell succinctly says, "[Myrtle] wants what Daisy has.  Myrtle is the mirror image of Gatsby, who wants what Tom  has.  They are both upstarts, trying to foist themselves upon high society, poseurs who lead double lives (p. 67).  Myrtle does a lot of the same things he does -- wants power and position and money, tries to get a better life for herself, throws parties, runs around with a married person, and insists on believing her lover will change her life.  So fascinating.

Second, Churchwill points out this interesting tidbit: "When Tom realizes that Gatsby wants to supplant him, he gives Gatsby precisely what he thought he wanted: Gatsby is put in Tom's place, taking the fall for both Buchanans' crimes, Daisy's careless driving and Tom's affair with Myrtle" (p. 281-82).  Whoa.  I kind of sensed that before, but never saw it so clearly until now.

This book as a whole has increased my appreciation for Fitzgerald's writing, and I definitely recommend it if you're a fan of his, or of The Great Gatsby.

Particularly Good Bits:

Their story would prove that if you make yourself up, you can be undone, as well: being self-made risks unraveling (p. xxi).

A nation so fixed on progress will always be pulled, Nick begins to see, back into nostalgia, reaching for what lies ahead yet longing for what lies behind (p. 257).

Gatsby hangs suspended between chasing the future and longing for the past: the present means nothing to him.  But Daisy is defined by the present.  She needs immediacy, for she dwells in the shallows of time, drifting unrestfully and without purpose from moment to moment (p. 272).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for discussions of alcohol abuse, violence, and sexual topics in a non-explicit way.

Monday, July 24, 2017

The "100 Books the BBC Think Most People Haven't Read More than 6 of" Tag

Olivia at Meanwhile, in Rivendell, tagged me with this recently, so here goes!

(I snurched this from Movies Meet Their Match)


1. Be honest.
2. Put an asterisk next to the ones you have read all the way through. Put an addition sign next to the ones you have started.
3. Tag as many people as there are books on the list that you have read.

Because I've reviewed quite a few of these, I'll be linking titles to my reviews as applicable, okay?


1. Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen * 
2. Gormenghast Trilogy - Mervyn Peake
3. Jane Eyre - Charlotte Brontë *
4. Temple of the Golden Pavilion - Yukio Mishima
5. To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee *
6. The Story of the Eye - George Bataille
7. Wuthering Heights - Emily Brontë *
8. Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell 
9. Adrift on the Nile - Naguib Mahfouz
10. Great Expectations - Charles Dickens *
11. Little Women - Louisa May Alcott *
12. Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13. Catch 22 - Joseph Heller*
14. Rhinoceros - Eugene Ionesco
15. Baron in the Trees - Italo Calvino
16. The Master of Go - Yasunari Kawabata
17. Woman in the Dunes - Abe Kobo
18. Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger *
19. The Feast of the Goat - Mario Vargas Llosa
20. Middlemarch - George Eliot *

(John Wayne)

21. Gogol's Wife - Tomasso Landolfi
22. The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald *
23. Magic Mountain - Thomas Mann
24. War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25. Ferdydurke - Gombrowicz
26. Narcissus and Goldmund - Herman Hesse
27. Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky 
28. The Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29. Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll *
30. The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame *
31. Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy 
32. The Jungle - Upton Sinclair
33. Tom Sawyer / Huck Finn - Mark Twain **
34. Emma - Jane Austen *
35. Robinson Crusoe - Daniel Defoe *
36. Delta Wedding - Eudora Welty
37. The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini 
38. Naomi - Junichiro Tanizaki
39. Cosmicomics - Italo Calvino
40. The Joke - Milan Kundera

(Sir Ian McKellen)

41. Animal Farm - George Orwell *
42. Labyrinths - Gorge Luis Borges
43. One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44. A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving 
45. Under My Skin - Doris Lessing
46. Anne of Green Gables - L. M. Montgomery *
47. Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy 
48. Don Quixote - Miguel Cervantes 
49. Lord of the Flies - William Golding *
50. Absalom Absalom - William Faulkner
51. Beloved - Toni Morrison
52. The Flounder - Gunther Grass
53. Dead Souls - Nikolai Gogol
54. Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen *
55. My Name is Red - Orhan Pamuk
56. A Dolls House - Henrik Ibsen *
57. A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens *
58. Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59. The Idiot - Fyodor Dostoevesky 
60. Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez

(Clint Eastwood)

61. Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck *
62. Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63. Leaves of Grass - Walt Whitman +
64. Death on the Installment Plan - Celine
65. The Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas *
66. On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67. Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68. Pedro Paramo - Juan Rulfo
69. Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie
70. Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71. Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens *
72. Dracula - Bram Stoker *
73. The Metamorphosis - Kafka
74. Epitaph of a Small Winner - Machado De Assis
75. Ulysses - James Joyce
76. The Inferno - Dante 
77. Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome +
78. Germinal - Emile Zola
79. To the Light House - Virginia Woolf 
80. Disgrace - John Maxwell Coetzee

(William Powell and Myrna Loy)

81. A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens *
82. Zorba the Greek - Nikos Kazantzakis
83. The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84. The Box Man - Abe Kobo
85. Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert +
86. A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87. The Stranger - Camus
88. Acquainted with the Night - Heinrich Boll
89. Don't Call It Night - Amos Oz
90. The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91. Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92. The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93. Gravity's Rainbow - Thomas Pychon
94. Memoirs of Hadrian - Marguerite Yourcenar
95. A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96. Things Fall Apart - Chinua Achebe
97. The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas *
98. Hamlet - William Shakespeare *
99. Faust - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe +
100. Metamorphosis - Ovid 

So... that's 29 read, I believe.  Not quite a third, but then, I'm possibly done with just over a third of my life, so I guess that's okay :-)

(Alan Ladd and his daughter Alana)