Thursday, September 21, 2017

"The Lord of the Rings: The Mythology of Power" by Jane Chance

There are several different places in this book where I wrote "mind = blown" because the nuances Jane Chance teased out of Tolkien's storytelling were so amazing.

I'm serious.  She brought up things I never, ever thought of, and I'm on my seventh reading of The Lord of the Rings.

I'm trying to find words to explain all the wonderful things I learned from this book, and I'm falling so short.  I'm going to have to re-read it again and again to really internalize and remember a lot of what I learned, but I'll share a couple of the things I found most interesting.

How about the fact that Denethor and Theoden's names are basically mirror images of each other?  Den-e-thor.  The-o-den.  And that their "leadership styles" are also mirrors -- one is a kind and loving leader who "commands through respect and love," and the other is a "tyrant [who] commands his followers by edict, rule, law" (p. 90).  HOW did I never notice this?

Or how about the fact that, while Gollum calls the Ring his "birthday present," it literally is Frodo's birthday present because Bilbo left it to him (along with Bag-End) on their shared birthday?  I mean, dude.  So amazing.  And again, now that I see it, that's so totally obvious, but it's not anything I ever thought of.

My favorite chapter was probably the one at the end, "Heroic Narrative and the Power of Structure."  I love studying the structure of myths and epics, also called the "hero's quest," and how they get used over and over in new and interesting ways.  I'd previously identified a lot of things in LOTR that draw from the classic myth structure, but I had never before noticed that "[i]n each of the three volumes, Tolkien matches the heroic structure of the initial book to that of the second book" (P. 19).  Which means for instance, that in book 1, everyone's at a great gathering at the beginning, Bilbo's party.  At the beginning of book 2, they're at the Council of Elrond.  In book 1, Frodo and friends go down into the valleys and encounter an ancient being who consumes some of them, Old Man Willow.  In book 2, they go down into Moria and encounter an ancient being who drags Gandalf away, the Balrog.  And on and on it goes.

Just fascinating stuff that I not only never noticed myself, but that I, as a writer, would never have come up with!  My appreciation for Tolkien as a writer and storyteller have grown so much while reading this book.

But this book is probably not for everyone.  If you don't enjoy analyzing texts, looking for deeper meanings, and somewhat scholarly pursuits like that, you probably wouldn't enjoy this book.  Certainly you can understand The Lord of the Rings without it.  But if you're like me and have read the trilogy quite a few times and enjoy peeling away layers to see the wordcraft and deeper meanings below a book's surface, I definitely recommend you try this book.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG for some discussions of things like violence.  No bad language or anything like that.

I wrote this review as part of this year's Tolkien Blog Party.  If you haven't yet, check out the blog tag and giveaway and other posts for the party!

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

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Middle-earth Movie Songs Quiz

Here's the second party game I've come up with for this year's party!  I usually try to gear one toward people who are more familiar with the books, and one toward those who are more familiar with the movies, so here's one that involves the movies.  (And if you're familiar with both, then you are probably going to be good at both!)  These are the lyrics used in the movies, so although some of them might be in the books as well, I'm looking specifically for the lyrics sung in the movies.

Here are ten lines from songs used in Peter Jackson's six Middle-earth movies.  You have to supply the missing lyrics.  I'll post the answers and your scores on Saturday.

No fair looking them up online!  Leave your guesses in the comments.

1.  Now I see fire, inside the mountain.  I see fire burning the ___________.  ("I See Fire")

2.  May it be an _______ _______ shines down on you.  (2 words) ("May it Be")

3.  The tears we cry Are falling rain For all the _____ you told us.  ("Gollum's Song")

4.  Blunt the knives, bend the forks, Smash the ______ and burn the corks.  ("Blunt the Knives")

5.  You can drink your fancy ______, You can drink 'em by the flagon.  ("The Song of the Green Dragon")

6.  The _________ were roaring on the heights.  The winds were moaning in the night.  ("Misty Mountains")

7.  What can you see on the ____________?  Why do the white gulls call?  ("Into the West")

8.  Home is behind, the world ahead, and there are many _______ to tread.  ("Pippin's Song")

9.  But in dreams I still hear your _________.  And in dreams, we will meet again.  ("In Dreams")

10.  Many places I have been.  Many ____________ I have seen.  ("The Last Goodbye")

Randomly, I found this nice little piano version of "The Last Goodbye" on YouTube and thought I'd share.  Contains no lyrics, so listening to it here is not cheating!

Hope you've been enjoying this year's party so far!  This is the last game, but I've got another book review coming up yet.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

How Well Do You Know the Shire?

Time for our first party game!  The rules are simple:  put your guesses in a comment.  I've enabled comment moderation, and I won't publish people's guesses until after I've revealed the answers on Saturday.

1. The Brandywine River separates the Shire from ____________.

a. Buckland
b. Breeland
c. Mirkwood
d. Rohan

2.  The Shire is divided into four ______________.

a. Districts
b. Farthings
c. Quartos
d. Counties

3.  Bilbo Baggins (and later his cousin Frodo) lives in a hobbit hole called _______________.

a. Bagshot Row
b. Buckleberry Hole
c. Bottomless Barrow
d. Bag End

4.  In The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo Baggins sells his home and moves to a house called _______________.

a. Applethwait
b. Baggerlee
c. Crickhollow
d. Delft

5.  Bilbo Baggins lives in the village of ______________.

a. Hobbiton
b. Bree
c. Michel Delving
d. Bywater

6.  The hobbits have a museum called a "mathom house" in the town of _________________.

a. Hobbiton
b. Bree
c. Michel Delving
d. Bywater

7. The only brew for the brave and true comes from the ________________.

a. Sleeping Owl 
b. Green Dragon 
c. Prancing Pony
d. Ivy Bush

8. Peace in the Shire was traditionally kept by a voluntary group known as the _______________.

a. Shirriffs
b. Archers
c. Crows
d. Bandylegs

9.  The two main crossing points of the Brandywine River are the Brandywine Bridge and _____________.

a. Withywindle Ford
b. Longbottom Crossing
c. Bucklebury Ferry
d. Oldbrook Bridge

10.  Which of these is NOT a place in the Shire?

a. Willowbottom
b. Undertowers
c. Cobas Haven
d. Little Delving

Good luck!  

Monday, September 18, 2017

"Finding God in the Lord of the Rings" by Kurt Bruner and Jim Ware

This is a fantastic little book.  It goes through the whole trilogy in chronological order, pulling out events and examining them in the light of Christianity to see what they contain.  Faith, hope, love, sacrifice, redemption, grace, desire, fear, death, weakness, danger -- there are so many wonderful topics packed into this book!

While it's set up so you could use it as a devotional, reading one section a day, I didn't read it that way -- I gobbled it up as fast as I could, underlining and scribbling madly in the margins.  I'm teaching my niece high school lit again this year, and we're reading The Lord of the Rings together as our first project.  Delightful!  I'm drawing on this book for a lot of the themes we're discussing.

Particularly Good Bits:

Tolkien understood that our lives are part of a grand drama that both transcends and explains our experiences.  The drama's narrative infuses meaning into scenes and events that would otherwise seem arbitrary and meaningless.  Tolkien saw the adventure of our lives, like the adventure of his hobbits, as part of a story that began "once upon a time" and is moving toward its eventual "ever after" (p. xi).

C. S. Lewis believed that our desire for something better is a gift, a way of reminding us of what it is we lost and what it is we hope to regain (p. 2).

Tolkien saw our world as neither completely right nor completely wrong, but rather as a good that has been violated, a beauty marred.  He realized that the only way we can understand that which occurs within time is to view it within the context of that which occurred before and beyond time (p. 4).

The true forces of evil in our world are rarely haphazard or indiscriminate.  The occasional mad gunman notwithstanding, the history of mankind shows that the most destructive wickedness is devious and determined.  Violent insanity is far less trouble than diabolical brilliance (p. 18).

It is only when we humble ourselves by acknowledging that we don't know everything that we are able to learn from others (p. 22).

Middle-earth, in other words, is a hauntingly luminous mirror image of our world.  For we know that the world in which we live is a perilous place, a place where good and bad, light and dark, innocence and horror, glory and depravity march side by side and sleep back-to-back.  We forget this at times, of course.  In the course of our dull daily routines we often grow numbly accustomed to it all.  But there are those moments when we wake suddenly in the middle of the night and remember that we are, after all, surrounded by terrors (p. 33).

It is our human destiny to participate with God in the ongoing work of creation (p. 112).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  G.  Absolutely clean and God-pleasing.

I wrote this review specifically for this year's Tolkien Blog Party.  If you haven't yet, check out the blog tag and enter the giveaway.  There will be more posts coming this week, including games and another Tolkien-related book review.

This is also my 7th book read and reviewed for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2017.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

A Tolkien Blog Party -- 2017

Can you believe this is our FIFTH Tolkien Blog Party?  I had no idea when I first came up with the idea back in 2013 that it would become an annual thing, but I'm so happy it has :-)

The Tolkien Tag 2017

As usual, it's time for you to copy these questions onto your own blog and answer them, add your post to the linky thingie here, and then raise your beverage of choice in a toast to Bilbo and Frodo -- their birthday is on Friday! Some of these are repeat questions from past parties, and some are new -- if you want to repeat some answers from a previous year, you may.

1. How long have you been a Tolkien fan?
2. Has your love of Middle-earth affected your life?
3. If you had to take the One Ring to Mordor, which character would you choose for your sole companion?
4. Which is scarier, Shelob or the Balrog?
5. Which two towers do you think Tolkien was referring to in the title The Two Towers?  (i.e. Orthanc, Barad-dûr, Cirith Ungol, Minas Morgul, or Minas Tirith)
6. Whose wardrobe would you like to have?
7. What do you think an Ent Draught would taste like?
8. Where in Middle-earth would you like to live?
9. Do you have any Tolkien-related opinions that surprise other people?
10. List up to ten of your favorite lines/quotations from the books or movies.

Here is the linky thing:

Once you've filled out the tag and added the link to your post, check out other people's posts and make some new friends.  And don't forget to enter the giveaway right here!  And check back all week for more fun -- I've got some Tolkien-related games and book reviews coming up.

Giveaway for the 2017 Tolkien Blog Party

Hobbits give presents to their guests on their birthdays instead of receiving them, so maybe I should be a hobbit after all -- I do love giving things away!  I've got some very cool prizes this year, if I do say so myself.  Here they are!  Because this is my FIFTH Tolkien Blog Party, I got rather celebratory and so... there are quite a few this year.

TWO sets of four postcards each featuring Middle-Earth locations
Erebor, Edoras, Rivendell, and Minas Tirith
(I will draw two winners, each will receive one set of 4 postcards)
ONE set of three stickers with cool Tolkien quotations

ONE set of three Gandalf stickers

ONE set of three hobbit hole stickers

ONE set of three Bard the Bowman stickers
A USED copy of the BBC's full-cast dramatization of The Hobbit on four CDs.
I bought this used from my library -- I have not listened to all the discs,
but disc one plays just fine in my CD player.

A USED copy of Tolkien Trivia -- in excellent condition!

Four necklaces made by me!  I will draw FOUR winners for these and give
ONE necklace to each of those winners.  They are themed as follows:
1. Hobbits -- mallorn leaf, green stone, "hope" pendant
2. Rohirrim -- "freedom" pendant, earth-colored stone, horse
3. Aragorn -- "Not all those who wander are lost" pendant, green stone
4. Lonely Mountain -- key, Arkenstone-like stone, dragon

This giveaway is open WORLDWIDE.  I'm mailing these all myself, and most of them are small, so no matter where you live in this wide world, you are welcome to enter.

The main way to gain entries is to participate in the party, in other words, to copy the questions I posted (here) and answer them on your own blog, then add your post's link to the Mister Linky widget at the bottom of that official party kick-off post. But that isn't required! You can also earn entries by telling me your prize choices and by commenting elsewhere on my blog.  I do my best to match winners with their choice of prizes, but that doesn't always work out -- that's why I ask for your top three choices.

This giveaway runs through the end of Friday, September 22. I will draw the winners on Saturday, September 23 and post the names of the winners that day, as well a notify them by email.

PLEASE make sure your information for the giveaway widget includes your current email address so that if you win a prize, you'll get the email informing you that you won! If you don't reply to my email by Saturday, September 30, I will choose another winner and award your prize to them instead.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

"The Case of the Missing Marquess" by Nancy Springer

Eva from Coffee, Classics, and Craziness recommended this series to me because she knows I love Sherlock Holmes and good middle-grade fiction.  Thanks, Eva!  This was a fun, fast read.

Enola Holmes is the much, much, much younger sister of Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes.  While they're off pursuing their adult lives in London, she's growing up footloose and free in the country.  Or she was.  Their mother disappears on Enola's fourteenth birthday, and none of the Holmes siblings can figure out where she's gone.

Sherlock and Mycroft are appalled at the non-ladylike behavior of their little sister and determine to send her to boarding school so she can have a proper upbringing.  Enola has been taught to fear things like corsets and male authority by her proto-feminist mother, and she runs away, determined to find her missing parent.  Instead, she gets tangled up in the mystery of a runaway aristocrat and succeeds where her famous brothers fail.

The idea of Sherlock Holmes having a younger sister amused me greatly, and I really liked Enola as a character.  I didn't enjoy the almost militant feminist overtones quite so much, and the book as a whole fell just a little into the trap of "let's make our detective look smarter by making everyone else kind of dim" that a lot of Holmes pastiches get snared in.  However, I'm pretty sure I'll try another book in the series to see if I like it better.

Particularly Good Bits:

Lead-coloured clouds hung low while the setting sun oozed molten light between them; the Gothic towers of the city stood festive yet foreboding against that glowering sky, like candles on the Devil's birthday cake (p. 141).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for repeated mentions of ladies-of-the-evening and fairly delicate allusions to how they make their living.  That's why I'd call this "middle-grade fiction" and not "junior fiction."  No bad language or other objectionable material, though.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Call for Advanced Readers for "Cloaked"

First off, thank you all for being so supportive and encouraging! So many of you have cheered me on while I've struggled through the process of independently publishing my first book. We are almost there, folks. Thanks to a heroic rescue by Cowboy yesterday (when I say my husband knows everything about everything, I'm not exaggerating), I have finished formatting Cloaked. Which means I'm pretty confident I will be releasing this book the last week of September.

So now I'm looking for some brave, kind volunteers who would like to be Advance Readers! There are some requirements for qualifying as an ARC reader. You must be able to:

  • read a PDF file
  • finish reading the book (just under 200 pages) by September 30
  • leave a review on
  • also leave a review at at least ONE of the following:

  1. Your own blog
  2. GoodReads

If you meet those qualifications, then send me an email at rachelkovaciny at gmail dot com :-) I can't give away unlimited copies, but I do need a decent number of reviews....

(This has nothing to do with the book, I just love this shot from The Lone Ranger.)

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The Book Cover for "Cloaked"

Here it is!  The cover for Cloaked, the western re-imagining of "Little Red Riding Hood" I have been working on for... well, it feels like forever, but it's actually been just a little over a year.  And which, yes, will be released by the end of this month, Lord willing and the creek don't rise.  In both Kindle and paperback forms, via Amazon.

I don't know about you, but I am in love with this cover.  It's the work of my talented sister-in-law, Erika Ohlendorf.  If you're a writer and want to see what other kinds of work she does, her website is here.  Her prices are reasonable, as original cover art by a real artist goes.

If you're on Goodreads, Cloaked has a page there already.  (Thanks, Elisabeth Grace Foley!!!)  I have an author page on Goodreads too.  And, you know, a website and a Facebook author page, that kind of thing.  Just in case you want to find me elsewhere.

So... what do you think?  Does it say "western Little Red Riding Hood" to you?  I hope so!

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: The Struggle is Real

Today's prompt from The Broke and the Bookish is "Ten Books You Struggled to Get Through."  Here are mine.  That doesn't mean I disliked all of them, just that I recall having to push myself to finish them.

The Blythes are Quoted by L. M. Montgomery  (Not a cheerful book.)

Cold Shot by Dani Pettrey (I actively disliked the writing.)

Death Comes to Pemberley by P. D. James (Repetitious.)

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin (Was interesting, but not particularly applicable to my life.)

Hood by Stephen Lawhead (I had a hard time engaging with the characters.)

The Iliad by Homer (Is loooooooooooong.)

Jane Austen's Cults and Cultures by Claudia L. Johnson (Was fascinating, but very dense.)

Papillion by Henri Charrière (I was engrossed whenever I was reading it, but as soon as I put it down for any reason, I had no desire to pick it up again.)

The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien (So full of detail I kept getting "full" and having to take breaks.)

The White Company by A. Conan Doyle (Went on and on.)

Okay, that's my list.  What's yours?

Thursday, August 31, 2017

"Echoes of Sherlock Holmes" ed. by Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger

This is the third volume of "stories inspired by the Holmes canon" edited by Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger.  Like the first two volumes, A Study in Sherlock and In the Company of Sherlock Holmes, this is a collection of stories by a varied, eclectic mix of authors.  The only thing the stories have in common is that they are somehow inspired by the original Sherlock Holmes stories by A. Conan Doyle.  Some of them take place in the Victorian era, some are modern-day, some fall elsewhere in history.  Some have canonical characters, some don't.  

Like I did when reviewing the first two collections, I'm going to tell you a little about my five favorite stories in this book.

"Holmes on the Range" by John Connolly involves a mysterious place called the Caxton Private Lending Library & Book Depository where fictional characters whose authors have passed away come to live in quiet retirement amongst others of their kind.  When Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson show up BEFORE their author dies, but after Holmes has been sent hurtling over Reichenbach Falls, it threatens to mess up the entire retirement system.  This story kind of reminded me of Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next books in that you have ordinary people interacting with fictional ones.

"Before a Bohemian Scandal" by Tasha Alexander concerns the Crown Prince of Bohemia when he meets Irene Adler and has his fling with her prior to the events in the canonical story "A Scandal in Bohemia."  I love stories that fill in gaps in other stories, or give you a glimpse of what happened before or after a story, so I definitely enjoyed this one for those reasons.

"Raffa" by Anne Perry has an actor famous for portraying Sherlock Holmes on TV trying to help a little girl rescue her kidnapped mother.  He hates playing Holmes, hates that he gets confused with the character, but can't help but want to help the child, especially since no one else is taking her seriously.

"Understudy in Scarlet" by Hallie Ephron is about an aging actress asked to be in a remake of the film that made her famous, an adaptation of "A Scandal in Bohemia."  She gradually realizes someone is plotting against her and must use her wits and acting ability to figure out who and save herself from ruin.  It's a lot of fun, with overtones of All About Eve and an ending I very much liked.

"The Adventure of the Empty Grave" by Jonathan Maberry follows Dr. John Watson as he visits the grave of his friend Sherlock Holmes and meets a very strange stranger there who knows more about Watson, Holmes, and Moriarty than he ought to.  This was probably my favorite story in the whole collection, filled with emotions, surprises, and lovely details.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 for language, innuendo, violence, and dangerous situations.  Nothing explicit, but some will find the subject matter of some stories distasteful.

This is my eighth book read and reviewed for the Adventure of Reading Challenge and my sixth for the Mount TBR Challenge 2017.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Want to Participate in the "Cloaked" Cover Reveal Event?

So, you know I'm working on independently publishing my book Cloaked, which is "Little Red Riding Hood" re-imagined as a western. Like my story in Five Magic Spindles, "The Man on the Buckskin Horse," was "Sleeping Beauty" re-imagined as a western. Same idea, whole new cast of characters and setting and story.

I'm pretty sure you know about this because I've been talking about it on my blogs off-and-on for like a year now.

It's my first time doing the indie-pub thing. I'm nervous. I'm excited. I'm terrified. I'm thrilled. And I'm almost done with this thing at last. Like, seriously, this book will be out in September. I don't have a firm date yet, but it's coming. For real.

(This popped up in my Pinterest feed today.  Perfect timing.)

I'm going to be asking for some Advance Readers soon. Very soon. But first... I'd kind of like to do something fun to celebrate my cover being finished and ready to share. I've been working with graphic designer Erika Ohlendorf on a cover for my book, and... it's basically done. We've got like one more tweak to do. Which means that next week, I will be sharing it with all of you!

I know a number of you, my lovely and supportive and encouraging blogging friends, have been looking forward to seeing what the cover will look like. (And to reading the book, too, I hope!) If you would like to join me in showing off the cover on your blogs or in social media this coming Wednesday, Sept. 6, please email me at rachelkovaciny at gmail dot com with "Cloaked cover reveal" in the subject line.

All participants will receive my gratitude, fake internet points, and an imaginary hug :-)

Saturday, August 26, 2017

"Rules of Murder" by Julianna Deering

Remember when I read Dressed for Death for the INSPYs and loved it?  And I said I intended to read the previous books in the series?  Well, I've now read the first book, and I am definitely a fan!

Rules of Murder introduces Drew Farthering, a wealthy British man of marriageable age with a fondness for mystery books.  He and his best friend Nick return to Farthering Place, which is home to both of them -- Drew inherited it from his father, and Nick's father is the butler, but the boys grew up together and are great pals.  Drew's mother and stepfather are throwing a big party, during which Drew meets his stepfather's American niece, Madeline Parker.  And also during this party, someone gets shot.  In the face.  Rather reminiscent of Vera Caspary's Laura in that way.

More people die.  Drew and Nick decide to try to follow a list of advice from their favorite mystery author and figure out who the murderer is.  They are both an aid and an impediment to the official police investigator, one Inspector Birdsong, who is alternately amused and annoyed by them.

Also, Drew and Madeline find themselves mutually attracted to each other.  Drew thinks it's love, Madeline thinks it's too soon to tell, and I was very pleased by how well the author avoided the usual "insta-love" traps and pitfalls.

Then there's the fact that Madeline is a practicing Christian.  Drew kind of is for most of the book -- he believes more than he doesn't believe, sort-of.  So the story also involves him beginning to wonder if faith in God should involve more than just going to church now and then, if you should be living your life in a way that reflects your faith.

All in all, a fun first book in what promises to be an enjoyable series!

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  a soft PG-13 for violence, dangerous situations, innuendo about a married woman being unfaithful, and some mild kissing.  No bad language.  On my #RebelliousWriting reading list it goes!

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)