Saturday, December 31, 2016

"A Wreath of Snow" by Liz Curtis Higgs

Jamie at Books and Beverages recommended this to me earlier this month, and I'm so happy she did!  Thanks, Jamie!  This was a much meatier story than I'd anticipated, with characters facing up to past sins and misdeeds, reaching out to right wrongs, and learning that the truth can set you free.  It's also got a bit of romance, but really just the beginning of one, which is a neat change from what I rather expected -- usually Romantic Christian Historical Fiction takes us all the way to engagement or wedding, but as this takes place over only a few days, that would have felt unrealistic, and I like that Higgs didn't go that route.

Margaret Campbell returns home to Stirling, Scotland, to share Christmas with her family and crippled brother.  Along the way, she meets a handsome stranger, who turns out to be Gordon Shaw, the man who accidentally crippled her brother many years ago.  There's a violent snowstorm, stopped trains, surprise revelations, and lots of great details about life in Victorian Scotland.  I hope to read more by Higgs, as I really liked her style.

If This Was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  G.  Nothing whatsoever objectionable here.

This is my fourth and final book read and reviewed for the Literary Christmas Challenge.  Thanks so much for hosting it, Tarissa!  I hope to participate again next year, if you hold this again :-)

Friday, December 30, 2016

"Where Treetops Glisten" by Tricia Goyer, Cara Putman, and Sarah Sundin

This is a trio of novellas telling intertwined stories.  The three Turner siblings each find love at Christmastime during World War Two, on three successive Christmases.  

In "White Christmas" by Cara Putman, it's 1942 when college student Abigail Turner meets factory worker Jackson Lucas accidentally.  She offers her father's lawyering services to help save the Lucas farm, and as she and Jackson meet up over and over, they become friends, then fall in love.

In "I'll be Home for Christmas" by Sarah Sundin, it's 1943, and Air Force ace Pete Turner is home on furlough in time for Christmas.  He gets reacquainted with widow Grace Kessler when her little daughter Linnie decides he's the answer to her prayer asking God for a new daddy.  

In "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" by Tricia Goyer, it's 1944, and Meredith "Merry" Turner is working as a nurse in a field hospital in the newly liberated Netherlands when she encounters the man she had loved years previously, but had suspected of being a Nazi spy.

All three stories are sweet and fun, and they were the perfect sort of light reading I like during the busy end of December.  Each one had a nice message of trusting God, with characters growing and learning in believable ways.  If you're a fan of Christian fiction, holiday stories, clean romance stories, or simply the WWII setting, you'll probably get a kick out of these.  I read it as an e-book with my Kindle app, but I wouldn't mind owning a paperback copy.

Particularly Good Bits:

"I guarantee no woman has ever fallen in love with me after one kiss.  It takes at least twenty.  I happen to be quite resistible."  (from "I'll be Home for Christmas")

"The thing about love," Nancy said, more serious now, "is that it's slow to fade.  It's not a bad thing.  Love is meant to last."  (from "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas")

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG for war-related things like talk about concentration camps, hiding Jewish people to protect them, people being killed, and some surgical and medical situations in the final story especially.  The romances do involve kissing, but nothing more.

This is my third book read and reviewed for the Literary Christmas Challenge hosted by In the Bookcase.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

My Ten Favorite Books of 2016

For the past two years, I've one a list of my ten favorite reads for the year -- you can read 2014's list here, and 2015's list here.  This time, I'm linking up with Top Ten Tuesday at The Broke and the Bookish, since their topic today is Top Ten Best Books of 2016.

I read and reviewed 48 books this year (plus a handful I read but never reviewed, and a couple I'm reading right now but haven't finished yet), which seems to be about my usual number.  Like before, I'm breaking these down into new-to-me books and re-reads.

New To Me

A Portrait of Emily Price by Katherine Reay -- I read all four of Reay's books this year, and this one I loved so much I had to buy my own copy as soon as I'd finished it.  It's a heartfelt look at the meaning of family, love, and belonging.

Greenwillow by B. J. Chute -- Cute and charming and funny and sweet.

I, Claudia by Charity Bishop -- A brilliantly imagined look at what life as Pontius Pilate's wife might have been like.

Lady Cop Makes Trouble by Amy Stewart -- Second in a series based on the real experiences of one of the first woman police officers in the United States.  Much funnier and more rambunctious than it sounds.

Letters from Father Christmas by J. R. R. Tolkien -- A beautiful labor of love from a highly creative father for his four children.

And Now Tomorrow by Rachel Field -- A moving, rich exploration of a woman's search for meaning and identity.


Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë -- Simply my favorite book of all time, that's all.

The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton -- I consider this the ultimate coming-of-age story.

Shane by Jack Schaefer -- A beautiful picture of how one person can impact the lives of others.

Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery -- Another example of how a person can impact others.

How about you?  What were the best books you read this year?

Thursday, December 22, 2016

2017 Reading Plans

You know I usually have some kind of reading goal for the year.  For 2016, it was My Year with Anne, where I wanted to read all the Anne of Green Gables books.  Went pretty fabulously.  In 2015, it was My Year with Robin Hood.  Kinda crashed and burned.  It happens.  

I've been tossing around a few ideas for 2017, and nothing really felt right until I found that one of my newer blogging acquaintances, Risa, is planning a very relaxed re-read of The Lord of the Rings.  I haven't reread that since I led my very first read-along, which was three years ago.  Gack!  I need to read it again!  So I'm doing that with her.  Calling it My Year in Middle Earth, as I hope to read a couple other things set there as well, like those short stories I've never read yet (such as "Farmer Giles of Ham").  Never know, I might even try some of the History of Middle Earth books or reread The Hobbit as well.

And also, my TBR shelves are scary right now.  So I'm going to do the Mount TBR Challenge (hosted by My Reader's Block) again in 2017.  I did it back in 2014 and really liked how it helped me get through some of the books I already owned, so I'm signing up again!  I'm aiming for Pike's Peak, which means reading 12 books already on my TBR shelves before January 1, 2017.  Not making a list for this, just reading as the book vibes move me, as usual.  Who knows -- I might get ambitious and aim for Mount Blanc and 24 books instead!  We shall see.

I think that's enough reading challenges and plans for me for 2017.  Besides my Classics Club list, of course.  Do you have any goals in mind already?  Or are you not a fan of challenges and so on?

This might be my last post before Christmas, so just in case it is... Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

"Letters from Father Christmas" by J. R. R. Tolkien

Awwwwwwww.  This is a beautiful labor of love from a father for his children.  In fact, what I loved most about this book was imagining Tolkien working on these amazing letters and pictures in secret, laboring on these for hours, sometimes probably days.  

The letters start out fairly simply, just a nice message to Tolkien's three-year-old son, John, who had asked Tolkien about Father Christmas and where he lived.  The letter came with a full-color drawing of Father Christmas himself, and of his home near the North Pole.  It seems John was delighted, because for more than twenty years, Tolkien continued the tradition, until his youngest child was in her teens.  In a way, he became Father Christmas himself, don't you think?

At first the letters are fairly simple, but as the children got older, Tolkien created a whole mythology around Father Christmas and his helpers -- can't you imagine him doing that?  The creator of Middle Earth would not be content with just one old guy in a red suit and some elves.  He gives Father Christmas a helper named North Polar Bear, then an elf secretary named Ilbereth, a gardener named the Snow Man, nephews for North Polar Bear, and so on.  He introduces goblins that keep messing up Father Christmas' storehouses of toys and books and fireworks, and there are whole battles between them.  North Polar Bear gets into lots of mischief, and also likes to add little notes to the letters in the margins.

Overall, this is the most delightful book imaginable, and I will treasure my copy always.  Here are a few of the illustrations (which I totally found on the internet and didn't scan in myself because I didn't want to break the binding on my book to lay it flat):

The first letter, 1920

North Polar Bear causing problems, 1928

Goblin attack!  1933

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  G.  Good for everyone of all ages.

This is my second book read and reviewed for the Literary Christmas Reading Challenge hosted at In the Bookcase, and my fifty-fifth for the Classics Club.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Santa, Please Pause Here!

This week's Top Ten Tuesday subject from The Broke and the Bookish is "Ten Book-Related Items I'd Like Santa to Bring Me".  Here we go!

This t-shirt that mashes Hamlet and Holmes together
from Etsy shop SillyTees

A Fantastic Beasts bookmark
from Etsy shop Bookmarky

A print of this gorgeous painting of Boromir
from Etsy shop MattStewart

This Harry Potter quotation on a tote bag
from Etsy shop OnePunkyMama

My favorite Jane Eyre quotation on a shirt
from Etsy shop Boredwalk

Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy cookie cutters
from Etsy shop Printmeneer

Four mugs with hand-painted LOTR quotations
from Etsy shop TheRingandtheLion

This Hamlet scarf with the "To be or not to be" soliloquy on it
from Etsy shop LiteratiClub

An Austenite tote bag (love the yellow!)
from Redbubble artist BookishWonder

This Robin Hood mug
from Redbubble artist Mandie Monzano
(Hush, now!  Robin Hood is in books too.)

There you have it, ten book-related things in not particular order at all that I would love to get for Christmas.  Or my birthday.  Or for no reason at all.  

Monday, December 19, 2016

"True Grit" by Charles Portis

The only good thing about having a bad cold is it gives me an excuse to just sit down and read.  I've polished off five books in five days, which is really making me feel so much more sane about my reading load heading into Christmas :-)

I've read this once before, back around the time the new movie version came out, so like five years ago.  I love so many things about it -- the flavor, Mattie herself, the way it's basically a classic myth set in the Old West.  Mattie Ross is such a determined, intelligent, and yet believable fourteen-year-old, and I love her.  She sets out to capture her father's murderer, enlisting the meanest Federal Marshal she can find, Rooster Cogburn.  She doesn't want Texas Ranger LaBeouf to come along, but can't prevent him, and by the end of the adventure, she's glad he was there.  There's a lot of danger and excitement here, and just a little tragedy.

When I think of this book, though, what I usually think of first is the unique flavor, especially of the narration.  Portis gives Mattie a very blunt, yet old-fashioned voice that somehow manages not to be stilted even though it is rather formal at times.  The other characters speak similarly as well.  There aren't a lot of contractions.  And it amuses me to no end.  I laugh a lot during this book, both over the delightful style and the odd things that happen.  There are a few examples below.

Particularly Good Bits:

If Papa had a failing it was his kindly disposition.  People would use him.  I did not get my mean streak from him (p. 13).

At the city police station we found two officers but they were having a fist fight and were not available for inquiries (p. 21).

Mattie... you are a pearl of great price to me, but there are times when you are an almighty trial to those who love you (p. 87).

"I was born game, sis, and hope to die in that condition" (p. 94).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for some bad language, scary situations, violence, and gore.

Although this book is only 48 years old right now, I am counting it for my Classics Club challenge anyway because it is otherwise very classic, and I am sure people will be valuing it for generations to come.  So this is my 54th book read and reviewed for the Classics Club.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

"A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens

It's been quite some time since I actually read A Christmas Carol.  Maybe as much as twenty years -- I'm not sure I've read it since high school.  I was curious to see how close my memories of it, and knowledge of it from movie adaptations, were to the original.  It turns out, they were remarkably close!  And this is entirely due to the excellent 1999 made-for-TV adaptation that stars Patrick Stewart.  Stewart had previously read and performed the story as a one-man show on Broadway, and his comfort with inhabiting the role of Scrooge testifies to his close knowledge of the text, I think.  The 1999 version is very faithful to the book, down to much of the dialog, so rereading this story felt very familiar indeed.

I think what I like best about this story is how believable Scrooge is.  Yes, there's a lot of fantasy in all the ghost stuff, but Scrooge himself -- so realistic.  I can easily understand a person turning from lonely to selfish to greedy to isolated.  I think most of us can see a little of ourselves in Scrooge, and a little of Scrooge in us.  And we fear becoming like Scrooge, so we root for him to learn and change and grow.  Because if he can be redeemed, so can we, if need be.

Of course, Charles Dickens entirely neglects to include any mention of where eternal redemption comes from.  Scrooge's ideas and emotions have thawed, but being nice on Christmas (and throughout the year) will not earn him a place in heaven.  And Dickens doesn't imply that it will, does he?  He wants Scrooge -- and through him, the audience -- to focus on the earthly sufferings around us, to do whatever is in our power to help our fellow humans.  But while heartwarming and inspirational, A Christmas Carol is ultimately just a nice story.  Do I like it?  Yes.  Does it reflect the true meaning of Christmas?  No.  It's a Christmas carol, not a Christmas hymn, after all.

Particularly Good Bits:  It is a fair, even-handed, noble adjustment of things, that while there is infection in disease and sorrow, there is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good-humour (p. 77-78).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  G.  Utterly clean, and the ghosts really aren't that scary when you're reading the book and not seeing them on screen.

This is my 53rd book read and reviewed for the Classics Club.  And it's my first book for the Literary Christmas reading challenge.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Women's Classic Literature Event: Final Group Check-In

Here's the question for the last group check-in for this event:

If you could meet any of the authors you read for this event, which one would you meet, and why? What would you ask her?

I would love to meet Elinore Pruitt Stewart -- she's so intrepid and good-humored, and I think she would be such fun to hang out with.  I would ask her to tell me anything at all she felt like sharing, as I'm sure it would be wonderfully interesting.  And then I'd ask her if we could correspond, because I love her letters so much, I want to read more of them!

(Elinore Pruitt Stewart)

I enjoyed this article from about Stewart, which filled in a few details about her life I didn't learn from her books.

This is my last post for this event, though I'll leave my page for it up for a bit yet.  I read twenty books for it!  Pretty pleased about that.  It's been interesting to make reading choices based on the author's gender, which is not something I tend to do ordinarily.  

Thursday, December 15, 2016

"Ethan Frome" by Edith Wharton

I have a head cold.  Not a terrible one, but still, enough to make me want to sit and rest a lot these last couple of days.  Cowboy had today off from work, and he built us a lovely fire this afternoon.  I made everyone hot chocolate (mine in one of my favorite mugs from The Ring and the Lion -- it says "Forth now, and fear no darkness" in Elvish) and settled down with a book I've been meaning to read for over a year:  Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton.  

Way back when I started the Women's Classic Literature Event last December, I said that Edith Wharton was the author I was most excited to read for the event.  Well, I've finally managed to read a book by her, my very last for the event.  

I did not love this book.  It's not a book one loves, I think.  It's a book one reads and ponders and learns from, a hard look at hard people living a hard life.  And yet, not a bitter book, somehow.  Tragic, sad, and poignant, but not bitter, which is astonishing to me.

Ethan Frome ekes out a bare living for himself and his ailing wife from their Massachusetts farm and mill.  He married his wife Zenobia out of duty and gratitude for the way she nursed his mother before she died.  Zenobia then turned into an invalid herself, the kind that delights in her many ailments and the importance it gives her.  The sort of character I want to slap.  Ethan trudges on through life until his wife's poor relation, Mattie, comes to stay and help.  Ethan comes to care for Mattie, and she for him, but they both come to realize they can never be together.  They make a desperate bid for freedom, tragedy strikes, and their lives are ruined forever.  All this told with a kind of emotionless detachment that never judges them or their behavior, but simply presents it as a story to experience and perhaps learn from.

While I didn't enjoy this book so much as find it interesting, I do want to read more of Wharton's novels!  I could probably say more intelligent things about it if I wasn't doped up on Advil Cold & Sinus, but I want to write about this while it's fresh in my head, so I'll just leave it at that.

Particularly Good Bits:

He seemed a part of the mute melancholy landscape, an incarnation of its frozen woe, with all that was warm and sentient in him fast bound below the surface; but there was nothing unfriendly in his silence (p. 14).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  G.  There's no cussing, no violence, no adult situations.  A bit of kissing between unmarried people, but nothing lurid.

This has been my twentieth book read and reviewed for the Women's Classic Literature Event, and my fifty-second for the Classics Club.

Friday, December 9, 2016

"Once" by Elisabeth Grace Foley, Rachel Heffington, J. Grace Pennington, Emily Ann Putzke, Suzannah Rowntree, and Hayden Wand

The idea behind Once is pretty genius:  six authors who enjoy writing historical fiction and fantasy band together to self-publish a collection of fairy tale retellings in various historical (and imaginary) settings.  And if you like fairy tale retellings, or are already a fan of any of these authors, you're most likely going to enjoy this collection.

I've already read something by several of these authors, whether it's been a story in one of the Rooglewood Press collections, Five Glass Slippers and Five Enchanted Roses or something they've self-published elsewhere.  And as a whole, Once reminded me a lot of those collections -- fun and imaginative and not trying to be Serious Literature, but just here to entertain.

I was especially interested in reading "The Mountain of the Wolf" because I've really liked the other westerns I've read by Elisabeth Grace Foley, especially her western Cinderella, "Corral Nocturne."  In this retelling of the Little Red Riding Hood tale, a handsome stranger meets a lonely woman living on the edge of the wilderness.  Little by little, he learns the reason for her seclusion:  she wants to find and kill the man who murdered her brother.  By the time I finished reading "The Mountain of the Wolf," I was sure it would be my favorite story in the collection.

And then I read "She But Sleepeth" by Rachel Heffington, and was like, "Oh, nope, THIS is going to be my favorite."  You'd think I'd be a little tired of the Sleeping Beauty story after writing my own retelling, "The Man on the Buckskin Horse" and then reading and re-reading the other four stories from Five Magic Spindles too, but "She But Sleepeth" was a very, very different take from any of those.  In it, a movie set designer and her handsome intern traveled to Romania to research a castle for an upcoming movie.  There, they unexpectedly time-travel back a hundred years and learn that the intern is actually a princess, lost to her parents through the machinations of an angry Gypsy.  I really like fish-out-of-water stories, and the two people from today trying to navigate life a hundred years in the past tickled my fancy.

But then I read "Rumpled" by J. Grace Pennington, a steampunk retelling of the Rumplestiltskin story.  It so happens that Rumplestiltskin has always fascinated me in a repellent sort of way -- when I was a kid, it was one I read over and over.  This is the most straight-forward retelling, in that there's still a poor girl, a king who wants what she supposedly can create, and an ugly little man who helps her in exchange for the promise of her firstborn child.  The addition of all kinds of technology to the story gave it a fresh vibe, but it was the characters that made me decide this was my favorite story -- I found both girl and king very realistic and sweet.

However, when I read "Sweet Remembrance," Emily Ann Putzke's retelling of Hans Christian Anderson's "The Little Match Girl," and I knew it was actually my favorite.  Set in a Jewish ghetto during WWII, the story of two young people who found and then gradually lost each other, their world, and then their whole lives made me cry more than once.  It was achingly beautiful, and the fact that people like these really did live through horrors like that made it even more poignant.  I love learning about WWII, both from non-fiction and from fiction -- that time period fascinates me endlessly, and this story was obviously well researched, which I appreciated.

I had to put this book down for a day after finishing "Sweet Remembrance" so I could process my feelings about it.  But then I read "Death Be Not Proud" by Suzannah Rowntree, a lively retelling of Snow White set in New Zealand during the Roaring Twenties, and I had to change my mind AGAIN because it was obviously my favorite.  You know I love F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, and I've become increasingly interested in the 1920s of late, so the setting definitely drew me in.  But it was the murder mystery at the heart of the story that made me love it, and the way the Snow White elements were not staggeringly obvious, but instead were woven subtly throughout.  

You're probably expecting this, but when I reached the end of the collection and read Hayden Wand's "With Blossoms Gold," I knew I had finally found my true favorite story of the six.  This is a Rapunzel retelling with some amazing twists.  For one, the girl hasn't been imprisoned in a tower, she's staying there for her own safety.   And for another, it tackles head-on what it's like to live with panic attacks.  I have friends who suffer from panic attacks, anxiety, and depression in one form or another, and I absolutely loved the way Hayden Wand compassionately described how debilitating these can be, what a real problem they are, how they are not just imaginary things people could "get over" if they tried hard enough.  Also, both of the main characters had wonderful character arcs and truly grew as people over the course of the story, facing fears, sacrificing things for each other, and ultimately learning to understand both each other and themselves so beautifully.  

I don't know if there are plans to release this collection in paperback format at some point, but I hope that does happen, because I want Once on my real bookshelf, not just my Kindle carousel.  

Just so you know, I did receive an ARC of this book in exchange for me promising to review it honestly. 

If This Was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for violence, some suspenseful moments, mildly scary scenes, and a couple instances of mild bad language.  There's also some kissing, alcohol use, and discussion of people being married in name only.  Fine for teens, but I'm not going to let my 9-year-old read it until he's older.

Monday, December 5, 2016

"Becoming Holmes" by Shane Peacock

I'm a bit irked with this book, I'm afraid.  I started reading this series three years ago because the title of this, the final book, sounded so enticing.  I worked my way through them slowly, because there were only six books in the series, and I didn't want them to get to this one too quickly.  I liked the series better and better as it progressed, and so I'm afraid I set myself up for a bit of a let-down, as I did have pretty high expectations for Becoming Holmes.  

It's not that this is a bad book.  I felt like it meandered a bit in the middle before figuring out where it was going, but that didn't bug me much.  I did greatly dislike one thing, though, a thing I found terribly out of character, and I'm going to say it here and it's going to be spoily, so if you are thinking of reading this book or series and don't want spoilage, just skip to the next paragraph and you'll be fine.  The thing I disliked was that Sherlock Holmes deliberately killed a villain, then lied about it, pinned it on another villain, and was not particularly bothered by this behavior.  And while the canon Holmes does sometimes take the law into his own hands, it is never in this lying, conniving way.  This felt beneath him.  Understandable for the character Peacock has written, but, in the end, not for someone who is becoming Sherlock Holmes.

Up until the final chapter, when the above was revealed, I was not enchanted with this book, but I wasn't irked with it the way I am now.  Now I'm pursing my lips and glaring at it out of the corners of my narrowed eyes, and that's just not how I wanted to feel about this book.

Still, the series as a whole has been entertaining and inventive.  I'm glad I've read them, but I don't think I'll ever feel the urge to reread them.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for disturbing images, violence, death, and some creepiness.