Monday, December 30, 2013

LOTR Read-Along: Farewell to Lorien (FOTR Ch. 20)

At the beginning of this chapter, they decide to leave.  It takes them eleven pages in my copy to actually do so.  Lothlorien must be a very charming place indeed!

I always feel so very sad for Sam here, because he missed out on learning how the Elves make rope.  A completely missed opportunity, one he's obviously not going to have again, and one he didn't even have the chance of either accepting or rejecting.  It's just, "Oh, you like making rope?  Too bad we didn't know."  Makes me kind of depressed on his behalf.

Random thing that makes me happy:  Boromir says, "I have myself been at whiles in Rohan" (p. 365).  I love that he's been hanging out there -- he's such a staunch defender of the Rohirrim too, whenever anyone starts in on the whole "I think the Rohirrim have been sending horses to Sauron" nonsense.  See, Boromir is my most beloved character in these books, but I love Rohan more than the other cultures.  Even above the Shire, for the most part.  So I'm very pleased that my favorite character has spent lots of time where I myself would like to be.  In fact, he borrowed a horse from the Rohirrim, possibly the one he says here that he lost when he forded the Greyflood.  He doesn't say he borrowed a horse, but Eomer later mentions that they loaned him one, and that it returned riderless (p. 423).

And so everyone has one last Elvish feast, gets presents, and heads off down the river.  Back on track, after yet another lengthy stay with new friends.

Favorite Lines:

"Maybe the paths that you each shall tread are already laid before your feet, though you do not see them" (p. 359).

"...we put the thought of all that we love into all that we make" (p. 361).

"Memory is not what the heart desires.  That is only a mirror, be it clear as Kheled-zaram" (p. 369).

Possible Discussion Question:  

Are these discussion questions of any real use, or should I just incorporate them into my review?

Saturday, December 21, 2013

LOTR Read-Along: The Mirror of Galadriel (FOTR Ch. 19)

Oh my goodness!  Only three more chapters to go before the end of the first book!  As promised, I have a little giveaway planned to celebrate that milestone.  At this rate, I'll be holding it in January at some point.

Also, I probably won't have another chapter read until after Christmas, so if you don't see a new chapter review up for more than a week, don't panic or anything.

So here we are at Lothlorien, hanging out, resting, learning about elves, mourning Gandalf, and seeing a bit of magic.  Sam explains a little of why I probably wouldn't want to hang out at this particular Middle Earth location:  "Nothing seems to be going on, and nobody seems to want it to" (p. 351).  That's supposed to sound restful and contemplative, I think.  To me, it sounds boring and wearisome.  I actually like having things to do and getting them done.

Celeborn gets a lot more to say here than in the movie, doesn't he?  Galadriel says that he "is accounted the wisest of the Elves of Middle-earth, and a giver of gifts beyond the power of kings" (p. 347).  Totally not the impression the movie gives!  Which is why, yet again, the books are just better.  

Galadriel tells Frodo, "For the fate of Lothlorien you are not answerable, but only for the doing of your own task" (p. 356).  This time through these books, I'm noticing what a major theme that is, the fact that each person is only responsible for their own task, their own life.  Way back at the beginning of the book, Gandalf told Frodo, "All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us" (p. 50).  Toward the end, Gandalf will tell Prince Imrahil, Aragorn, Elladan, and Elrohir that "it is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till" (p. 861).  I feel like this is supposed to be comforting, that we don't have to try to do everything or be everywhere.  At the same time, it's very sobering, because if we fail to do the task we have in the time we're given, we're failing those who come after us and are depending on us.

Okay, those are all my deep thoughts for the day :-)

Favorite Lines:

The air was cool and soft, as if it were early spring, yet they felt about them the deep and thoughtful quiet of winter (p. 349).

Possible Discussion Questions:  Would you look into the Mirror of Galadriel if you had the chance?

Thursday, December 19, 2013

"Henry Tilney's Diary" by Amanda Grange

Awwwww.  This is such a sweet book about such a sweet guy.  I smiled the whole way through it, and chuckled or giggled or laughed often.  I think that, of all the characters in all of Jane Austen's books, Henry Tilney is the one I most wish I was more like.  He's almost unfailingly cheerful and funny, and he's always nice and kind.  I try to be all those things, but I don't always succeed.  Anyway, this book showcases all of those good traits, plus lots of nifty background on how Henry Tilney's mother died and other events that happen before Northanger Abbey begins.

And, of course, it also tells the story of his meeting Catherine Morland and falling in love with her.  There's a lot more of his sister Eleanor in this than in the original, and I like her even more now.  (It's not possible for me to like Henry Tilney more, I don't think -- he's already my second favorite Austen hero, second only to Captain Frederick Wentworth from Persuasion.)

If I have one quibble, it's that the backstory for Captain Tilney is a little too sympathetic, giving him a reason to be a total rake and turning his behavior with Isabella Thorpe from appalling to excusable.  I'm not sure why I'm annoyed with that, other than that it all tied up so neatly and made everything so nice, whereas the not-nice sliver of darkness in Northanger Abbey made the lightness of Catherine Morland just that much sweeter.

But that's a minor quibble.  Like the other Amanda Grange books I've read, this is thoroughly enjoyable, a quick read that stays very true to the original characters and story while expanding on them in delightful ways.  After reading this, I'm all in the mood to re-read the original and re-watch the 2007 movie version.  Not sure when I'll have time to do either of those, alas.

Particularly Good Bits:

In the meantime I am winning the respect of my parishioners, who were at first bemused by my sermons but, I flatter myself, now find them refreshing.  Certainly attendance has gone up since I was ordained and took over the living, and it cannot all be because I am young and unmarried (p. 95).

Her reply was everything I could have wished for.  To be sure, she was incoherent, and her sense of obligation and pleasure were so mixed together with an assurance that her heart had long been my own that her words were incomprehensible, but the smile in her eyes told me all I needed to know (p. 245-6).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG.  As innocent as the original, with the loathesome John Thorpe throwing in a couple of swear words (I think -- I didn't actually make notes this time through).

Monday, December 16, 2013

LOTR Read-Along: Lothlorien (FOTR Ch. 18)

Another refreshingly short chapter!  Though one of those in-between chapters, where we spend all our time traveling from one event to the next.

As you know, I love Rivendell.  I think it sounds restful and quiet and calm -- like a library crossed with a spa.  But I don't love Lothlorien.  It's a little too otherworldly for me, I think.  Frodo thinks that "[i]n Rivendell there was memory of ancient things; in Lorien the ancient things still lived on in the waking world" (p. 340).  To be honest, that kind of creeps me out.  My brain says that it'd be cool to be able to interact with ancient things and people, but my instincts want nothing to do with it.  So I don't blame Boromir and Gimli for hesitating to go there.

But anyway, there's one bit here that makes me laugh every time.  When Haldir and his brothers encountered the fellowship, Legolas told Sam that "they say that you breathe so loud that they could shoot you in the dark," which seems really rude, but I just have to laugh because "Sam hastily put his hand over his mouth" when Legolas said that, and then when Legolas, Frodo, and Sam get invited up onto one of the elves' flets, it says "behind came Sam trying not to breathe loudly" (p. 333).  And that amuses me to no end, the image of Sam climbing a rope ladder and spending more energy on breathing quietly than on climbing.

Also, I love the Elvish word for orcs:  yrch.  It sounds like someone saying 'yuck,' which is probably exactly what I'd say if I saw an orc.  After I quit screaming and running away, anyway.

Favorite Lines:

 "We must do without hope," he said.  "At least we may yet be avenged" (p. 324).

"Indeed in nothing is the power of the Dark Lord more clearly shown than in the estrangement that divides all those who still oppose him" (p. 339).

"We live now upon an island amid many perils, and our hands are more often upon the bowstring than upon the harp" (p. 339).

"The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater" (p. 339).

On the land of Lorien there was no stain (p. 341).

Possible Discussion Questions:

There's a poignant moment where Merry tells Haldir, "I have never been out of my own land before.  And if I had known what the world outside was like, I don't think I should have had the heart to leave it" (p. 339).  I'm reminded of what Elrond told Pippin when he and Merry didn't want to be left behind.  Elrond said they wanted to go along "because you do not understand and cannot imagine what lies ahead" (p. 269).  However, later on, Aragorn will disagree with Elrond's statement when he says of Merry, "[h]e knows not to what end he rides; yet if he knew, he still would go on" (p. 762).  Who do you think understood the hobbits better, Elrond or Aragorn?  Or does this reflect a change in Merry and Pippin, part of their character arcs?

Friday, December 13, 2013

"Death of a Doxy" by Rex Stout

I think that the first episode I ever saw of the A&E series A Nero Wolfe Mystery was the one based on this story.  Because the actors for that show are most indelibly fixed in my head in these particular roles.

If you've never watched the show, I need to explain that the show is kind of a throw-back to the idea of a local repertory theater group.  By which I mean that while the regulars (Archie, Wolfe, Fritz, Saul, Fred, Orrie, Lon Cohen, and Inspector Cramer) are all played by the same actors all the time, there's another group of actors that all play different characters depending on the story.  For instance, this story has a character named Avery Ballou played by actor James Tolkan.  Tolkan plays 11 completely different characters in other episodes.  So while some series regulars on the show always play the same characters, other series regulars play a different character in every story.  Which took a little getting used to.  And for me, all those regulars are most indelibly stamped in my head as the characters they play in this story.  When watching other episodes, I'll sometimes think, "Oh, her!  She was Stella Fleming."  Or "Oh, him!  He was Avery Ballou."  So I think I saw this one first, and possibly more often than some of the others just because I only had a couple of eps on VHS at first, though I know have both seasons on DVD.  And a t-shirt, which I serendipitously am wearing today.  Hmm.

But enough about the show!  (It's wonderful.  Try to see it.  Swell period costumes, great acting, top-notch plots... sorry, I said enough, didn't I.)  I'm supposed to be reviewing the book here.  I hadn't read it before, so that was an added bonus :-)  But any trip through a Nero Wolfe novel is a delight for me.  I simply love these characters and their world.  Archie Goodwin might be my favorite narrator of all time, even over Philip Marlowe (!) -- he's got such zest and zing, and is generally cheerful.

The plot of this one, as you might have guessed, involves a dead doxy.  "Doxy" being another name for a "kept woman."  The doxy in question was two-timing her sugar-daddy with none other than Orrie Cather, one of the freelance detectives Nero Wolfe sometimes hires to help tail a suspect or gather information, etc.  When the doxy dies, Orrie lands in jail on suspicion of murder.  Wolfe, Archie, and the other tow freelance operatives they sometimes hire (Saul Panzer and Fred Durkin, just so you know) decide they don't believe Orrie did it, and they set out to find out to did.

Particularly Good Bits:

He uttered a French sound, loud, maybe it was a word (p. 142).

Cramer said a word, loud, which I omit because I suspect that some of the readers of these reports are people like retired schoolteachers and den mothers (p. 148).

If This Was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for allusions to people being in a sexual relationship.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

LOTR Read-Along: The Bridge of Khazad-dum (FOTR Ch. 17)

Another of my favorite chapters.  Really, my favorite section of this vast story is the part where the unbroken fellowship is having their adventures.  So basically the two previous chapters and this one.  Not that I don't love the rest, cuz I do, but this is what I love the best.

How calm Gandalf is at the beginning of this chapter.  Everyone gets trapped in the Chamber of Mazarbul, and Gandalf says, "Here we are, caught, just as they were before.  But I was not here then" (p. 315).  It must be so cool to be Gandalf, knowing you can make that big of a difference.

So then we get lots of excitement as we battle some orcs.  And Sam kills one!  "Boromir and Aragorn slew many" (p. 317), Gimli gets one, and then Gandalf takes over and gives them time to flee down the stairs.  He did make all the difference after all!

This picture comes from the moment in the movie when Boromir says, "What new devilry is this?" as the Balrog approaches.  In the book, Gandalf gets that line.  Sorta.  He says, "There is some new devilry here" (p. 320).  Another instance where the script takes a line from one person and gives it to another -- I suppose this time it's because in the movie, Gandalf sort of knows or suspects they'll meet up with the Balrog, so it wouldn't make sense for him to wonder what it is since he's supposed to have some idea already.

The Balrog is just insanely cool.  Horrid and dreadful, of course, but so, so fascinating.  I love how Tolkien describes it:  "Something was coming up behind them.  What it was could not be seen:  it was like a great shadow, in the middle of which was a dark form, of man-shape maybe, yet greater; and a power and terror seemed to be in it and to go before it" (p. 321).  It's vague and formless, so scary because you can't really make out what it is.

And man, Gandalf's last stand still gets to me, even though I know what happens later.  I've got goosebumps again just thinking about it.  This part is especially awesome:  "It stepped forward slowly on to the bridge, and suddenly it drew itself up to a great height, and its wings were spread from wall to wall; but still Gandalf could be seen, glimmering in the gloom; he seemed small, and altogether alone:  grey and bent, like a wizened tree before the onset of a storm" (p. 322).  I love how that one image kind of encapsulates the whole book:  one tiny, seemingly helpless bit of resistance against a towering, seemingly all-powerful foe.  Awe-inspiring, I have to say.

Favorite Lines:

There was a rush of hoarse laughter, like the fall of sliding stones into a pit (p. 315).

"You cannot pass," he said.  The orcs stood still, and a dead silence fell.  "I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the flame of Anor.  You cannot pass.  The dark fire will not avail you, flame of Udun.  Go back to the Shadow!  You cannot pass" (p. 322).

Aragorn smote to the ground the captain that stood in his path, and the rest fled in terror of his wrath (p. 323).

Possible Discussion Questions:

When Gandalf fends off the Balrog back in the Chamber of Mazurbul while everyone else flees, he says he "had to speak a word of Command" (p. 319).  Anyone know what that means, exactly?

BTW, I hope nobody minds that I've kind of slowed down the pace for this.  I'm rather busy playing in the snow, making fudge, and baking gingerbread, not to mention reading endless Christmas books to my kids.  Come January, I'll start doing more than one chapter a week again, I'm sure.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013


Hannah is hosting a giveaway on her blog, Reading in the Dark, that is sure to delight all my fellow Austen fans!  She's giving away a copy of the book Two Guys Read Jane Austen, the movie Lost in Austen, and some pretty Austenian postcards and an art print of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy.  You have until December 31 to enter, so what are you waiting for?  Go here for all the details, rules, pictures of the prizes, etc.

Also, I've got a giveaway going on my other blog, Hamlette's Soliloquy.  I'm giving away a copy of The Best Years of Our Lives on DVD, and it ends Friday.  Go here for details and to enter.

Monday, December 9, 2013

"A Slight Trick of the Mind" by Mitch Cullin

This is not a happy book.  I didn't like it very well.  I found it quite depressing, to be honest.  I'm not saying it's a bad book, because it's not.  It's perfectly readable, and other people might really like it.  There's a movie version in the works, starring Ian McKellen, which is how I first heard of this and why I read it.

Anyway, A Slight Trick of the Mind is about an aging Sherlock Holmes who is slowly losing his memory.  He's in his nineties and succumbing to the ravages of age, just like anyone else.  He's living in Sussex, tending his bees, mentoring his housekeeper's son, and trying to finish writing up an account of a case he worked on back in London decades ago.  He also spends time reminiscing about his recent trip to Japan, and the author weaves those three sections of his life together to form a cohesive whole by the end.

But, like I said, I didn't like this book.  Seeing a character I have loved for twenty years as a frail, failing old man was very hard for me, and I will not read this book again.  

First Line:

Upon arriving from his travels abroad, he entered his stone-built farmhouse on a summer's afternoon, leaving the luggage by the front door for his housekeeper to manage (p. 3).

Particularly Good Bits:

His ears registered the low, concentrated murmur of the hive -- the sound of which, in that moment, refused to summon his isolated, content years cultivating the beeyard, but, rather, conveyed the undeniable and deepening loneliness of his existence (p. 186).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG for themes of death and loss.

Friday, December 6, 2013

LOTR Read-Along: A Journey in the Dark (FOTR Ch. 16)

I'm considering signing everything as "one stray wanderer from the South" (p. 288) from now on.  Totally my favorite description of Boromir.  Just so you know.

This chapter has lots of exciting parts, with the wolves, and then the watcher in the water, and then all the wandering around in Moria.  And once again, I don't have lots to say.  Hmm.  And yet, this and the previous chapter are one of my favorite sections of the book. 

Gandalf says that he "once knew every spell in all the tongues of Elves or Men or Orcs" (p. 299) that were used to open enchanted doors.  So... there must have been a lot of enchanted doors around at one time, and they've just fallen into disuse?  That seems foolish.  I mean, if I had an enchanted door that you could only open with the right password, I think I'd keep using it.  Sounds very handy in case of a siege, for instance.  Or for stockpiling Christmas presents where the kids couldn't get at them.

Once Gandalf figures out how to open the Doors of Durin, he says, "Of course, of course!  Absurdly simple" (p. 300).  This makes me laugh, not for a LOTR-related reason, but because there's a moment in the Sherlock Holmes story "The Dancing Men" where Holmes doesn't want to explain to Watson how he deduced something because he says that once he explains, Watson will say, "How absurdly simple!"  Watson insists that he won't, Holmes explains, and then Watson cries, "How absurdly simple!"  It's a funny moment in the story, and particularly funny in the Jeremy Brett movie version.  So just thought I'd share :-)

Favorite Lines:

"However it may prove, one must tread the path that need chooses!" (p. 289)

"The wolf that one hears is worse than the orc that one fears" (p. 290).

"That was an eye-opener, and no mistake!" (p. 291)

In the dark at the rear, grim and silent, walked Aragorn (p. 302).

Possible Discussion Questions:

Okay, what is up with Aragorn and Moria?  It says here that he went there once, and "the memory is very evil" (p. 289).  Is this explained in the appendices, and I've just forgotten because I've only read all of them once, and that was years ago?

Thursday, December 5, 2013

"Beautiful Ruins" by Jess Walter

This is one of those books that make me want to give up writing in despair of ever creating anything that comes close to this kind of mastery.  I'm not saying this is a great book, mind you.  But it's written very, very well, and I admire that.

Jess Walter intertwines the lives of four protagonists and several lesser characters, allowing their connected stories to unfold slowly and not particularly linearly.  Pieces of the puzzle fall into their places at different moments, so that by the end of the book, you have the whole picture.  But in the middle of the book, that picture is very fragmented, and I spent quite a bit of time wondering how it would all mesh.  

Here is the basic story:  In the early 1960s, while Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor are filming Cleopatra in Italy, a young actress called Dee Moray leaves the production and ends up at a very small hotel in a very small Italian town.  The hotel's owner, Pasquale, falls a little bit in love with Dee Moray.  And then a whole bunch of stuff happens.  The rest of the story takes place in the present, revolving around Dee's son Pat and the way he tries to piece his fractured life back together.  There's also a WWII veteran trying to write a book, a Hollywood producer's assistant longing to make just one good movie, an aspiring screenwriter searching for meaning in his life, and Richard Burton himself playing a small but significant part.

As you can see, it's a little hard to explain.  The story bounces back and forth from the 1960s to the present, and to points in between too.  But it all makes sense in the end, and even ends pretty happily.  I wasn't very hopeful for a happy ending through most of the book, so I was pleasantly surprised.  This is one of those books where all the characters have problems and issues and hang-ups and are very troubled in their own way.  None of them are very happy through most of the book, and I have to admit the book as a whole is a little too depressing for me to want to read it again.

Particularly Good Bits:

He had never really mastered English, but he'd studied enough to have a healthy fear of its random severity, the senseless brutality of its conjugations; it was unpredictable, like a cross-bred dog (p. 9).

Weren't movies his generation's faith anyway -- its true religion?  Wasn't the hteater our temple, the one place we enter separately but emerge from two hours later together, with the same experience, same guided emotions, same moral? (p. 21).

It was curious what trying to speak English had done lately to his mind; it reminded him of studying poetry in college, words gaining and losing their meaning, overlapping with images, the curious echo of ideas behind the words people used (p. 112).

What if the only way to save the ones you love... is to leave them behind? (p. 126).

People can handle an unjust world; it's when the world becomes arbitrary and inexplicable that order breaks down (p. 148).

This is what happens when you live in dreams, he thought:  you dream this and you dream that and you sleep right through your life (p. 218).

We want what we want.  At home, she works herself into a frenzy worrying about what she isn't -- and perhaps loses track of just where she is (p. 301).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  R for sexual situations, drug use, adult dialog, and language.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

My First Reading Challenges

I've decided to sign up for two reading challenges for next year.  I know lots of bloggers who participate in such things, and I thought it would be fun to try myself.  So I'm signing up for two of them, both aimed at getting through some of the books on my to-read list.

I keep a reading list on my library's website, and it has ninety-three books on it.  Yes.  Ninety-three.  Clearly, it's time to get serious about digging into those.  So I'm signing up for the I Love Library Books Reading Challenge hosted by the Book Dragon's Lair.  I'm choosing the "chapter book" level for 12 books.  That means I need to check out 12 books from the library and read them over the course of 2014.  I think I can do that.  I might even bump up to a higher level, who knows.  Either way, it'll be a nice chunk out of that reading list.

I also have a couple of shelves-worth of books here at home that I have not read yet.  I'd like to work through a bunch of those too, so I'm signing up for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge hosted by My Reader's Block.  I'm aiming for the "Pike's Peak" level, which also involves 12 books.  Again, I may surpass that, but between these two challenges, I'll be reading 2 books a month on top of continuing my Lord of the Rings read-along here, and that's probably plenty for this busy mommy.

Many thanks to Ruth for telling me about both of these challenges!