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!

Another LOTR Read-Along: At the Sign of the Prancing Pony (FOTR 1, 9)

Hooray! Back to the parts of the book that I love. And I do love this part -- doesn't Bree sound like a fun place to visit? Especially the Prancing Pony. With Strider lurking in a dark corner. I love him when he's mysterious and shadowy, with his "travel-stained cloak of heavy dark-green cloth" and his "high boots of supple leather that fitted him well, but had seen much wear and were now caked with mud" (p. 153). I wish he would just stay all Ranger-y and cryptic, and we could go about having adventures with him. If I had the time, I'd totally read good fanfic about Strider on his pre-LOTR journeys.

(SPOILERS in the next THREE paragraphs)

If you've read this before, or seen the movie, you know who Strider turns out to be: Aragorn, heir to the throne of all Middle-earth. One more instance of Tolkien taking expectations and turning them on their head. Just a dirty, unkempt, dangerous wanderer? Nope, the rightful king. Like Jesus, in a way -- just a poor baby born in a stable? Just a carpenter from Nazareth? Nope. (And yes, Aragorn can be read as Christ-like character, though once again, we need to be careful not to see symbolism where there are only parallels.) Of course, the hobbits don't know this yet.

And here's something fun: do you know what the terms "pantser" and "plotter" mean? A "pantser" is a writer who writes "by the seat of their pants." Only the vaguest of plans for their story, just writing wherever things take them. "Plotters" are writers who plot everything out before they write, do outlines for each story (or each chapter), and know ahead of time where their story is going.

Well, Tolkien was a pantser. Reportedly, when he wrote the first draft, he found this dangerous, mysterious stranger sitting in the corner of the Prancing Pony and tossed him in the story, not realizing he was going to turn out to be Aragorn. I find this hilarious and awesome. And mind-boggling at how much re-writing he must have had to do to have everything weave together so beautifully through a thousand pages, if he pantsed the first draft.


Here we get some longer poetry, too. I like this poem, though, because it's amusing to me to think that the Mother Goose rhyme about the cow jumping over the moon comes from Middle-earth. (Obviously, the Mother Goose rhyme existed long before Tolkien wrote LOTR, but it's fun to pretend.)

Favorite Lines:

"If you want anything, ring the hand-bell, and Nob will come. If he don't come, ring and shout!" (p. 150)

Discussion Questions:

1. Do you think the ring meant to slip onto Frodo's finger, or was it an accident?

2. If you're a writer, are you more of a pantser or a plotter?

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Another LOTR Read-Along: Fog on the Barrow-downs (FOTR 1, 8)

This is my least-favorite chapter in the whole trilogy. I find it really creepy. Doesn't make me fall asleep, at least! But all that stuff about the fog and the echoing voices, and then the crawling hand of the barrow wight -- yuck! Good for reading around Halloween, I suppose, but I'm glad the majority of the book is not like this.

But if you like it, that's okay ;-) Could be we'll hit chapters I love that you don't!

One good thing about this chapter is that it gives Frodo a chance to discover that he can be heroic. Which is important, I think -- that "seed of courage" Tolkien talks about on page 137 is awakened here, and he's going to need that so much in the pages ahead.

Favorite Lines:

The mist was flowing past him now in shreds and tatters (p. 136).

The night was railing against the morning of which it was bereaved, and the cold was cursing the warmth for which it hungered (p. 137).

"Few now remember them," Tom murmured, "yet still some go wandering, sons of forgotten kings walking in loneliness, guarding from evil things folk that are heedless" (p. 142).

Discussion Questions:

Why didn't Tom Bombadil escort the hobbits to the road in the first place? They clearly got into trouble out in the forest on their own before.

Friday, December 1, 2017

"A Sidekick's Tale" by Elisabeth Grace Foley

I've been reading Elisabeth Grace Foley's westerns for several years now.  I always enjoy them, especially her western fairy tale retellings (yeah, I'm totally not the only person who writes those).  But none of them has come even close to the excellence of her latest book, A Sidekick's Tale.  

From the quirky and outrageous characters to the hints of romance, this book kept me thoroughly entertained.  You probably know that I dearly love to laugh, and this book made me laugh aloud time and again.  It reminded me so much of a screwball comedy from the 1930s and '40s -- you know, the kind with an impossible situation that just keeps getting worse and worse until everyone gives up all hope of ever extricating themselves, and then somehow, everything turns out okay in the end.

Meredith Fayett is a pretty young woman who inherits a ranch, but it's deeply mortgaged, and she soon learns she's going to lose her land if she can't pay down the loan.  She could use money her parents left her to pay off most of the mortgage, but she can't touch that until she turns 21... or gets married.  So, she sets about getting married to one of the men who works on her ranch, Chance Stevens.  Strictly as a business proposition, of course -- the most physical contact they ever exchange is the handshake they give each other instead of a kiss at the end of the wedding.  Happily for Meredith, Chance is an honorable gent, and he promises that as soon as she's got her money, he'll cooperate in getting their "marriage" annulled.  

But I'm leaving out the sidekick, and also the narrator, one Marty Regan.  He loans the couple an heirloom ring to get married with, only it turns out that his large and idiosyncratic family has been feuding amicably for years over who that ring actually belongs to.  And that's where most of the comedy comes in, as Marty and Chance go through a great deal of rigmarole to try to get that ring back and figure out who it really ought to go to.

Oh, I forgot to mention that this is charmingly illustrated by Annie Grubb of The Western Desk.  I've bought some things from her shop over the past couple years -- I really like her work!

Particularly Good Bits:

There's lots of fellows whose names don't get into the history books, but if they hadn't been there at the other fellow's elbow at the right moment, the world would have -- well, either have missed out on something sensational or been spared a lot grief, I don't know which (p. 1).

I don't know if you've ever noticed it, but while the behavior of your family seems perfectly normal to you, it comes across as pretty half-baked to an outsider (p. 54).

She had her hands on her hips as we came up toward her, and the look in her eye as it fixed on me was like the one she wore when she was picking out a turkey for Thanksgiving.  I tried to look meek and unappetizing (p. 57).

Even a sweet, pretty girl like Meredith Fayett, when she thinks she's been ill-used, can make ordinary sentences bite until you feel like you're holding a double handful of ice cubes and can't find anywhere to put them down (p. 121).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG.  Clean, family-friendly, and fun!

This is my 12th and final entry for the Adventure of Reading Challenge 2017!  What a fun year it has been :-)

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Another LOTR Read-Along: In the House of Tom Bombadil (FOTR 1, 7)

For many years, I was not a huge fan of this section of the book. I knew a lot of people loved it, and so every time I read it, I felt like I was missing something. I kept getting hung up on the religious imagery I saw, but couldn't figure out how it all tied together with the rest of the story.

For instance, at the end of the previous chapter, Tom hops away singing, "Tom's going on ahead candles for to kindle" and "Fear neither root nor bough! Tom goes on before you" (p. 118). To me. that sounds so much like when Christ told his followers, "I go to prepare a place for you" (John 14:2b). And when the hobbits ask Goldberry who Tom Bombadil is, she simply says, "He is" (p. 122), which sounds an awful lot like God telling Moses that his name is I Am (Exodus 3:14). And then, when the hobbits leave, Tom teaches them something to say if they get in trouble that sounds awfully prayer-like, ending with "Come, Tom Bombadil, for our need is near us!" (p. 131).

So I spent a lot of time trying to figure out who Tom Bombadil was supposed to represent, what this section was supposed to mean, and so on. I knew Tolkien had said this wasn't an allegory, but Tom Bombadil just didn't make sense in my head. Some people said he was based on a figure from Norse mythology, basically a guardian of the woods. And I think probably Tolkien wove that into this story, as he was fascinated with Norse mythology.

But the book Finding God in the Lord of the Rings by Kurt Bruner and Jim Ware suggests that he's also in some ways a personification of hope. "Hope" is a huge theme in this book. It delves a lot into what it means to hope, how one deals with losing hope, what someone does if their hope seems pointless, and how people behave if there seems to be no reason to hope anymore. And I do like the idea of Tom Bombadil being hope personified, because I think it shows that hope can be separate from what's going on in the world, even if it's also subject to the effects of events.

So anyway, we have a peaceful interlude here, which is nice. Also, reading about all that yummy food makes me hungry :-)

Favorite Lines:

The sound of her footsteps was like a stream falling gently away downhill over cool stones in the quiet of the night (p. 123).

As far as he could remember, Sam slept through the night in deep content, if logs are contented (p. 126).

Discussion Questions:

Any thoughts on Tom Bombadil, or Goldberry? Did they strike you as being more meaningful than just random cool people they run into?

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Winter is Coming

This week's prompt from The Broke and the Bookish is "Top Ten Books on Your Winter TBR List."  So here are the ten books I want to read next.

For once in my life, I am NOT listing these in any particular order.  It's possible I've had too much coffee already this morning.  Somebody stop me -- I'm being spontaneous!

1. The Two Towers by J. R. R. Tolkien (technically, I'm already reading this, but who's counting?)

2. The Return of the King by J. R. R. Tolkien (which I obviously would begin right after TTT.)

3. The Austen Escape by Katherine Reay (will be starting it SOON -- possibly today?)

4. Skipping Christmas by John Grisham (my pick for this year's Literary Christmas Challenge.)

5. The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place by Maryrose Wood (I've read the first chapter aloud to my kids already, and it is So Much Fun!)

6. The Brass Compass by Ellen Butler (I got to hear the author speak this fall!)

7. How the West was Worn: Bustles and Buckskins on the Wild Frontier by Chris Enss (looks like it will be incredibly valuable for research purposes, but also fun.)

8. Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles by Elizabeth Ward and Alain Silver (cuz you know I love all things Raymond Chandler.)

9. If I'm Found by Terri Blackstock (because I loved the first book, If I Run, and really need to read the sequel before book 3 comes out!)

10. Death by the Book by Julianna Deering (I really dig the Drew Farthering series!  I've read books 1 and 4 and am now filling in the gaps.)

(Via Pinterest)

What's on your winter TBR list?

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Another LOTR Read-Along: The Old Forest (FOTR 1, 6)

To be honest, this is one of my least-favorite chapters of all the books. I find the Old Forest really creepy, for one thing. But also, even considering how much danger befalls Merry and Pippin, it's kind of a slow chapter. For me, anyway. It makes me sleepy!

And here we meet someone who is not in the movies at all: Tom Bombadil. I remember there was a great deal of fan outrage when The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) came out over the fact that he was entirely cut out. I can understand that, since he gets several chapters in the book and is a fascinating character. But I can also understand why Peter Jackson cut him out, because you can't put e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g in a movie that's in a book (unless it's a very short book, which this isn't), and the whole point of this chapter and the next two is that the hobbits have gotten sidetracked already, and they're barely out of the shire. Sidetracks are not great for a fast-moving movie.

Anyway, the hobbits get sidetracked. They start out with the best intentions, right? Let's avoid the road and go through the Old Forest so that we can avoid danger. But the Old Forest turns out to be dangerous too, much more dangerous than they ever dreamed.

Now, we know that Tolkien didn't mean this book to be an allegory of Christian life. But we certainly can see things in the book that remind us of Christian truths. Since Tolkien was a Christian whose faith infused every part of his life, naturally it would be reflected in his writings. And I think that the whole part in the Old Forest is a very good representation of how good intentions can go wrong.

It's so easy to think we're avoiding something bad, only to ensnare ourselves in something worse. That's one of the worst part of living in this fallen world, I think. Good intentions aren't enough. Especially if you don't know much about the decision you're making. None of the hobbits have been very far into the Old Forest. They don't know what they're getting into. They're naive, and that almost costs them their lives. The Bible tells us to be "wise as serpents and innocent as doves" -- to be aware of the dangers and sins around us, so aware that we know not to get involved in them.

Okay, so that's one thing that the Old Forest chapter has going on. The other is that it's a great image of the fact that we live in a fallen world. The forest was once part of a perfect creation. But now it's corrupted, twisted, evil. Just like our fallen world, it actively works against Frodo and his companions, deceiving them and harming them, finally trying to kill them.

But they get rescued. "Frodo, without any clear idea of why he did so, or what he hoped for, ran along the path crying help! help! help!" (p. 116). He behaves like a Christian crying out in prayer, not seeing any way that God could help, but asking for help all the same. And help comes to the hobbits in the form of Tom Bombadil. We'll talk a lot about him in the next chapter post

Favorite Lines:

Sleepiness seemed to be creeping out of the ground and up their legs, and falling softly out of the air upon them (p. 114).

Other Discussion Questions:

1. Did you get sleepy during this chapter?

2. Can you think of any ways Peter Jackson could have included Tom Bombadil in his movie?

Saturday, November 25, 2017

"The Screwtape Letters" by C. S. Lewis

I've wanted to read this book since the year 2000.  One of my roommates my sophomore year of college read it for a class and said she laughed all the way through it, and it was just so witty and brilliant, and she insisted I would love it.

And it's taken me seventeen years to finally read it.  Partly because I didn't have a copy for a long time, and kept forgetting to get it from the library, and partly because I was pretty worried it was not going to live up to the hype she bestowed on it.  I even bought a copy last year, and then just... didn't read it.

Sometimes, I'm so lame.

But now, I've read it!  And wowwowwow.  Witty?  Yes.  Brilliant?  Yes.  Funny?  Not so much.

I mean, I can see how it could be funny, but it wasn't funny to me.

In fact, it was downright terrifying in spots.

Why?  Because I saw so much of myself in this book.  Complacent, distracted, and not very invested in my faith?  Yeah, that is me just FAR too often.  This was a very convicting book for me, and made me take a long look at how habitual my faith can become.  Which is great, because it made me examine my prayer life, my Bible-reading habits, and my investment in my vocations and see so many places where I am not doing what I should to thank and praise, serve and obey my Savior.

Which is not to say that it didn't make me laugh, because it did make me laugh a couple of times.  But it made me think much more than laugh, which I was not expecting, but which I appreciate so much.

In other words... this was way better than I had hoped.

If you've never read it, the whole book is letters from a demon named Screwtape to his nephew, a demon named Wormwood who is trying to prevent a human from remaining a Christian, but instead to win his soul for Satan.  Fascinating concept that's executed so masterfully.

Particularly Good Bits:

It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out (p. 16).

The duty of planning the morrow's work is today's duty; though its material is borrowed from the future, the duty, like all duties, is in the Present (p. 77).

If we neglect our duty, men will be not only contented but transported by the mixed novelty and familiarity of snowdrops this January, sunrise this morning, plum pudding this Christmas (p. 136).

A woman means by Unselfishness chiefly taking trouble for others; a man means not giving trouble to others (p. 142).

It is not fatigue simply as such that produces... anger, but unexpected demands on a man already tired (p. 166).

(I underlined a LOT more than these, but they give you a taste, anyway.  Fantastic book!)

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for non-explicit discussions of human sexuality.

This is my 12th book read and reviewed for my second stint at The Classics Club, and my 11th for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2017.

Friday, November 24, 2017

A Literary Christmas Challenge 2017

I had so much doing the Literary Christmas Challenge last year that I'm signing up most eagerly this year!  It's hosted by In the Bookcase once again -- click here if you're interested in joining it yourself.

This year, I am challenging myself to read:

~ Skipping Christmas by John Grisham

~ One more unspecified Christmas book (I like keeping my options open)

I would sign up for more, but I know I'm going to get lots of entries for the Rooglewood Press contest to read and judge in December, so I'm not going to set myself up for feeling guilty by saying I'll read a bunch of books I might not have time for.  Sound good?  Good!

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Disney Princess Book Tag

I'm taking this from Rissi at Finding Wonderland -- she did it a while back, and while she didn't tag me with it personally, she did tag "anyone else who wants to join in," so I'm counting myself among those.  I snurched the pretty graphic from her post too.

1. Snow White - Name your favorite classic

That one's easy!  Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.

2. Cinderella - Name a book that kept you reading well past your bedtime

A couple of years ago, I stayed up until like 2 am to finish reading North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell.  I regret nothing.

3. Aurora - Name your favorite classic romance

Persuasion by Jane Austen!

4. Ariel - Name a book that's about making sacrifices and fighting for your dreams

Song of the Ean by Emily Nordberg, especially regarding Auria.

5. Belle - Name a book with a smart and independent female character

Oh, I'll use Jane Austen again and name Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice :-)

6. Jasmine - Name a book with a character who challenged the social conventions of his or her world

I think Mary Russell in The Beekeeper's Apprentice (and the whole series) by Laurie R. King nicely fits that description.  Whether she's wearing trousers, hanging out with a cantankerous "retired" detective, getting a university degree instead of sitting around spending her fortune, or keeping cheese in her dresser drawer, she's always defying conventions she sees as unimportant.  And that's all just in the first book.

7. Pocahontas - Name a book with an ending that was a roller-coaster of emotions

A Slight Trick of the Mind by Mitch Cullin.  (I much preferred the movie Mr. Holmes.)

8. Mulan - Name a book with a kick-a** female character

I'll go with Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart.  Title kind of says it all, doesn't it?

9. Tiana - Name a book featuring a hardworking, self-made character

True Grit by Charles Portis.  That's Mattie Ross to a 't'.

10. Rapunzel - Name a book that features an artist

Middlemarch by George Eliot has an artist: Will Ladislaw.

11. Merida - Name a book that features a mother-daughter relationship

How about one book with many mother-daughter relationships?  I speak, of course, of The Mother-Daughter Book Club by Heather Vogel Frederick.  I've read 3 books in the series and thoroughly enjoyed all of them.

12. Anna and Elsa - Name a book that features a great relationship between siblings

Lizzy & Jane by Kathrine Reay is such a beautiful look at two sisters struggling to adapt to the absolutely wretched reality that one of them has cancer.

I wasn't tagged with this, but I'm going to tag a few of my bookish friends because I haven't tagged anyone with anything for a long time, and I'm overdue.  Since there were 12 questions, I'm going to run mad and tag twelve people!  So I hereby tag:

The Beckoning Hills
Book Geeks Anonymous
Bookshelves and Daydreams
Coffee, Classics, and Craziness
Greenish Bookshelf
The Language of Writing
Lavender Spring
Movies Meet Their Match
Of Bookshelves and Daydreams 
She Hearts Fiction
You, Me, and a Cup of Tea

There, now you have something to do over the long Thanksgiving weekend!  

Which reminds me... Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Another LOTR Read-Along: A Conspiracy Unmasked (FOTR 1, 5)

I love the contrast between this chapter's title and the previous one. We go from the whimsical "A Short Cut to Mushrooms" to the rather ominous "A Conspiracy Unmasked." There's nothing truly ominous about this chapter, however -- just Frodo coming to realize he's not as clever as he thought.

And now I'm going to talk about Sam some more. Here, he's the first to leave his comfort zone, crossing the Brandywine for the first time and striking out into territory that, while still in the Shire, is unfamiliar to him. Frodo, Merry, and Pippin have been here before, so for them, it's not that big a deal, but to Sam, wow. Enormous.

But before you can get yourself all comfortable with the idea of Sam Gamgee as a simple, one-note country lad, you find out he's a spy! And granted, he's just been spying on Frodo in a fairly innocuous way, but I think it would be harder to spy on someone who knows you well than on a stranger. Not that I'd know anything about such goings-on, of course ;-)

And we learn what lovely, loyal friends Frodo has. Merry and Pippin and Sam, of course, but also Fredegar "Fatty" Bolger, who got cut out of the movies and isn't in the book a whole lot either, but is equally doughty when it comes to pitching in to help his friend. What marvelous hobbits they all are.

Finally, I really like the little song Merry and Pippin got ready for the occasion of their departure. It really does work with the tune used in The Hobbit (2012).

Favorite Lines:

Sam was the only member of the party who had not been over the river before. He had a strange feeling as the slow gurgling stream slipped by: his old life lay behind in the mists, dark adventure lay in front (p. 97).

"We can't begin life at Crickhollow with a quarrel over baths" (p. 99).

Discussion Question:

Merry describes friendship this way: "You can trust us to stick to you through thick and thin -- to the bitter end. And you can trust us to keep any secret of yours -- closer than you keep it yourself. But you cannot trust us to let you face trouble alone, and go off without a word. We are your friends, Frodo" (p. 103). What do you think constitutes true friendship?

Quick Note:  This will probably be the only chapter I post this week, as I've just finished having company and will be hosting a big Thanksgiving meal on Thursday, so... I'm kinda swamped.  

Monday, November 20, 2017

"Film Noir: Light and Shadow" edited by Alain Silver and James Ursini

This book is a delight.

It's absolutely crammed with pictures.  (Yes, as my Goodreads friends know, I got entirely stuck on page 132 because it was a full-page picture of a certain beloved actor, and I didn't want to turn the page on him.)  It's also crammed with details and observations and information and trivia and facts and theories and... yeah, it is completely wonderful.

But what do you expect from a book with a cover that boasts Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney from my fave film noir ever, Laura (1944)?

The only real problem with this book is that now I have dozens more noir films on my to-be-watched list.  Such a problem to have, huh?  

Basically, the whole book is essay after essay devoted to the visual aspects of film noir.  The essays have titles like "Rooms like Reveries: Interiors and Interiority in Film Noir" (Imogen Sara Smith), "The Gangster and Film Noir" (Alain Silver), "Fragments of the Mirror: Hitchcock's Noir Landscape" (Alain Silver), and "Women's Song and Dance Performances in Film Noir" (Christophe Gelly and Delphine Letort) -- you can see how enticing they are to someone who enjoys this film style!

By far, my favorite essay was "Nothingness and Purpose: Light and shadow in It's a Wonderful Life" by Todd Erickson.  I've always felt that Wonderful Life was a much darker movie that it gets credit for, and so much darker than most Christmas movies -- I heartily agree with Erickson that it has noir in its heart.  

If you're a fan of film noir and love learning about how movies are made, love delving into what's going on below the surface of a story, or just generally love reading about movies, you will probably enjoy this book.

If This Was a Movie, I Would Rate It: a hard PG-13 for some bad language (quoting movie lines, mainly) and non-explicit discussions of adult themes and sexual undercurrents in films.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Another LOTR Read-along: A Short Cut to Mushrooms (FOTR 1, 4)

I absolutely love the title of this chapter. It makes me laugh, and it also alerts readers that this is going to be lighter than the previous one. I love mushrooms myself, so I'd definitely like to know of any shortcuts to get to some.

Pippin continues to be concerned about the Black Riders' sniffing, and rather put out that Frodo didn't ask the Elves about it. I'm amused.

This is the chapter where I start to really love Sam. It chiefly begins with this:
"If you don't come back, sir, then I shan't, that's certain," said Sam. "Don't you leave him! they said to me. Leave him! I said. I never mean to. I am going with him, if he climbs to the Moon, and if any of those Black Riders try to stop him, they'll have Sam Gamgee to reckon with, I said. They laughed." (p. 85)
Oh, Sam. How perfectly wonderful you are! I really feel like Sam has the greatest character arc in the whole book. He goes from humble gardener who's never been out of the Shire to a brave hero who helps save Middle Earth. Such an amazing guy. (Warning: I'm going to natter on about him a lot. He's my second-favorite character.)

Frodo notices that Sam is already growing and changing. Shortly after that bit,
Frodo looked at Sam rather startled, half expecting to see some outward sign of the odd change that seemed to have come over him. It did not sound like the old Sam Gamgee that he thought he knew. But it looked like the old Sam Gamgee sitting there, except that his face was unusually thoughtful. (p. 85)
The Sams, they are a-changin'.

Speaking of wonderful characters, isn't Farmer Maggot awesome? I read an internet discussion once where people tried to figure out who could have taken the ring if Frodo and Sam hadn't been able to, and it was almost universally agreed that Farmer Maggot could have done it too. But anyway, he's a great example of a pattern throughout the trilogy: reversed expectations. Frodo is scared of him, but he's friendly. His name sounds icky and rotten, but he's kind and lively. This is a huge theme for Tolkien -- I think it reflects the fact that he was a Christian. It really brings to mind those passages about how the wisdom of God is foolishness to man, or how the least will be greatest and the greatest will be least, and that the Son of God came to earth humble and poor.

So keep an eye out for that theme as we go.

Favorite Lines:

"I have something to do before the end, and it lies ahead, not in the Shire" (p. 85).

Discussion Questions:

Do you like mushrooms?

What other things can you think of from LOTR that go with the theme/pattern of reversing expectations? 

Thursday, November 16, 2017

"The Usurper's Throne" by Charity Bishop

When I first heard about The Usurper's Throne, I figured it was going to be a little similar to The White Queen by Philippa Gregory, since they both deal with British history in a novelized way.  I read The White Queen a few years ago and liked it okay, but I ended up getting bored by the court intrigue and how hard it was to tell the characters apart, since so many of them have similar names.  So I was a little worried that I might get lost in all the names in The Usurper's Throne, since British history is not one of my strong points.

I am overjoyed to say that my worry was completely unfounded.  While I wished The White Queen would have been about a hundred pages shorter, I wished The Usurper's Throne was a hundred pages longer.  It's that engrossing!

Happily, since I wanted more and more, this is book one in a projected series about the Tudor monarchs.  I eagerly await the next book!  Ms. Bishop had better write fast, because I want to dive into the next adventure right away.

The story here revolves around the marriage of Prince Arthur of England to Princess Katherine of Spain.  Prince Arthur's father, King Henry, is desperate to secure his children's position as rightful heirs to the English throne, but he's beset by traitors.  He hopes the alliance with mighty Spain will help dissuade potential usurpers.  Together with his chief enforcer, Sir Thomas Lovell, he seeks to keep order in England at any cost.  But a determined Duke of Suffolk wants to take the throne for himself, and various devious schemes twine through this book as Suffolk and the king try to thwart each other.

If all that sounds kind of confusing, don't worry!  I had very little trouble telling various characters apart even though I am not well-versed in English history.  Bishop's characterizations are sharp and vivid, and she's also included a list of characters at the beginning of the book, with their names, ages, what side they're on, and other useful facts.

I had two favorite characters in this book:  Meg Pole and Sir Thomas Lovell.  One is a heartsick, worried woman whose brother dies a traitor's death in the opening chapter, and the other is a wily, cunning, devious, but ultimately sympathetic cynic.  Because I'm not very knowledgeable about English history, I had no idea if either of them were going to survive to the end of the book, which was very suspenseful!

Particularly Good Bits:

"Books are friends that never change even when abandoned."

"Never let an opportunity for benevolence pass unnoticed."

"There are many prisons in life, Margaret... I cast people into them as often as I pluck them from their depths."

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  a soft R for a lot of sensuality and some language.  It never quite crosses over to where I felt uncomfortable reading it myself, but I would not let a teen read it.  There's a lot of suggestive dialog and sexual situations that are not described in detail, but are still more involved than I would recommend to anyone under 18.  A lot of the plot revolves around whether or not Arthur and Katherine's marriage was ever consummated. 

Full disclosure:  I received an ARC copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion, which I have given here.

You can pre-order the Kindle edition here, and the paperback should be available to pre-order soon.  The official release date is November 24!  Meanwhile, you can also check out the Goodreads page here.

This is my 11th book read and reviewed for the Adventure of Reading Challenge 2017 hosted by Heidi at Along the Brandywine.