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)

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

"The Trials of Sherlock Holmes" by James Moffett

When I found out that James Moffett of the wonderful blog A Tolkienist's Perspective was also a fan of Sherlock Holmes, I was pretty excited.  You may remember that I very much enjoyed participating in his read-along of The Silmarillion, and I continue to appreciate his insights into Tolkien.  I've also enjoyed his new Holmes-related blog, A Palace for the Mind

So I was eager to read James Moffett's own foray into Sherlock Holmes pastiche.  And I'm happy to say that the mysteries here are more twisty than any I could ever come up with.  They also all tie together into one unified puzzle pretty nicely.  

If you are a fan of the BBC series Sherlock, you will probably like this.  It's got the Victorian London setting of the canonical stories, but I found the characterizations to be very much informed by the BBC show.  The Holmes in this book is "cheeky" (p. 119) and "mischievous" (p. 145), and other anachronisms such as a kitchen in the 221B apartment also seem derived from the show rather than the book.  

In the end, I found this book a fun way to pass the time.  Just right for a little light summer reading.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG for various dangerous situations.  No bad language, no adult situations, nothing gruesome.

Monday, July 17, 2017

"Conspiracy of Silence" by Ronie Kendig

Imagine a story that's a cross between an Indiana Jones movie and Jack Reacher book, and you've pretty much nailed what Conspiracy of Silence is like.  You've got archaeologists discovering Biblical artifacts and unleashing a plague.  You've got a bunch of top-notch modern warriors going after lots of scary bad guys who want to weaponize that plague.  You've got a female FBI agent who specializes in detecting deception who helps figure out who's lying to the warriors and who truly wants to help them.  Oh, and one archaeologist is the sister of one of the warriors, and that warrior's brother used to be married to the FBI agent's sister.  Just to tangle everything up more, because more tangling is always good for a thriller.

This was a very engrossing book, one that sucked me in a bit slowly, but then held me fast.  Also, the Knights Templar are just always a good time, aren't they?  I can't remember any story involving them that I haven't liked, from Ivanhoe to The Maltese Falcon.  This is the beginning of a series, so while the central problem is resolved, there are still some loose threads left that will continue into the next book.

Particularly Good Bits:

Some people had emotional baggage.  Cole Russell had an entire department store (p. 272).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for a lot of violence.  Many, many fight scenes, shootings, deaths, etc.  

Note: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for me to read while judging the INSPY awards. In no way did I agree to review this book in exchange. These are my honest opinions.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Classics Book Tag

Jillian tagged me with this rather enchanting blog tag three months ago.  Thanks, Jillian!  I don't think I've ever done a blog tag devoted entirely to classics.  I'm sorry it's taken me so long to fill it out.

1. An over-hyped classic you really didn't like:  Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck.  I loathe it for its deliberate, gleeful cruelty.

2. Favorite time period to read about:  America's Wild West and the Jazz Age both fascinate me.

3. Favorite fairy tale:  "The Twelve Dancing Princesses" and "Cinderella" are high on my list.

4. Most embarrassing classic to admit you haven't read:  The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins.  Everyone talks about how it's one of the best early mysteries, but I just haven't read it yet.

5. Top 5 classics you want to read:  Death Comes to the Archbishop by Willa Cather, The Deerslayer by James Fenimore Cooper, The Once and Future King by T. H. White, The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte.

6. Favorite modern book/series based on a classic:  Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay is a fantastic modern retelling of Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster mixed with various other things.

7. Favorite movie version/tv series based on a classic: The Lord of the Rings trilogy directed by Peter Jackson is pretty hard to top.

8. Worst classic-to-movie adaptation:  Possibly the 1969 adaptation of Hamlet starring Nicol Williamson.

9. Favorite editions you'd like to collect more of:  I'd like to have a matching set of all of Patrick O'Brien's naval novels about Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin.  I own all of them, but most of them are matching trade paperbacks... and three aren't.  It bothers me they don't match.  Or, one day I could trade up for this wonderful edition:

10. An under-hyped classic:  More people need to read The Blue Castle by Lucy Maud Montgomery.

It took me a very long time to fill out this tag, so I'm not going to tag anyone.  If you'd like to do this tag yourself, go right ahead :-)  It's certainly a fun one!

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

"When Death Draws Near" by Carrie Stuart Parks

I can't recall ever before reading a mystery written from the point of view of an artist who does facial reconstructions for law enforcement.  That was such a unique and cool angle to look at cases from, in and of itself, but add in an Appalachian setting, and you know I was hooked.  Though the rest of the series doesn't take place in Appalachia, I'm hoping my library has the previous books, because I also quite liked the protagonist, forensic artist Gwen Marcey.

I also appreciated that, although some of the cases Marcey investigated were rapes, there was no gratuitous or graphic description of the crimes.  For a modern-day thriller/mystery in the vein of Kathy Reichs, it was not squeamishness-inducing, which I very much liked.

Basically, Gwen Marcey gets called in by the sheriff of a small Kentucky town to help draw identifying sketches of a rapist from descriptions provided by his victims.  She winds up investigating a snake-handling church and unraveling a decades-old murder.

My one real quibble with this book is that Marcey has a teen daughter who is fairly stereotypical, especially at first, and mostly seems just there to be put in danger so the protagonist has someone to feel protective of and something more than her own life to lose.  Not enough to make me stop enjoying the book, though!  I fully intend to read more of this series.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for discussion of rapes and murders, characters in grave danger, and violence.  Also, snakes and spiders.

Note:  I received a copy of this book from the publisher for me to read while judging the INSPY awards.  In no way did I agree to review this book in exchange.  These are my honest opinions.

Friday, July 7, 2017

"Great Gatsby" Read-Along Index

Here are the links to my individual chapter posts from this read-along, for easy reference in the future:

Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III
Chapter IV
Chapter V
Chapter VI
Chapter VII
Chapter VIII
Chapter IX
Final Thoughts

Just because I've finished posting about The Great Gatsby does not mean you need to stop commenting on the posts!  I know some of the participants haven't finished the book yet, and that is totally fine.  I am happy to continue discussing this book for as long as you like.

Winners of the Gatsby Giveaway

For the first time ever, I had more prizes than I had people competing for them!  That makes the whole name-drawing process very painless for me (I always feel sad for the people who don't win one of my giveaways), but it leaves me with a spare set of prizes.  I'm going to divide the extra set evenly among the winners, so you'll each be getting a little something extra as a surprise.

Oh yes!  The winners are:

Emma L. -- stickers

John S. -- greeting cards

Dale B. -- greeting cards

Sarah H. -- postcards

I'll be emailing you this morning to ask for your mailing addresses so I can send you your prizes.  And your surprises!

Thanks for playing, folks!  And thanks for participating in the read-along -- I know some people aren't finished reading yet, and that's fine.  I'll merrily continue to discuss the book as long as you like!

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

"Dressed for Death" by Julianna Deering

I've been wanting to read Julianna Deering's mysteries starring Drew Farthering for several years now, but I've just never gotten around to them.  And now I've read the fourth book in the series first, which is a bit topsy-turvy, but I fully intend to go read the first three books soon.  Possibly later this summer, as this was a fast and enjoyable read.

Drew Farthering and his wife Madeline attend a house party at the home of one of Drew's old classmates, Tal Cummins.  A week-long house party with a Regency theme, so they have to dress and behave like they're in a Jane Austen novel for a week, basically.  That's all well and good, but when another guest dies, secrets get revealed that change the lives of many people there, and Drew finds he can't necessarily save the day for everyone there.  

Also, there's a kitten.

This was such a fun mystery!  Yes, there was death and ruin and so on, but it never got ugly or terribly sinister.  Definitely not creepy.  And the Christian faith of the main characters was integral to the story, not an afterthought, but woven very naturally into it, the way real faith permeates the life of non-fictional Christians.  I especially appreciated the way the theme of Christian vocation was discussed several times -- Drew questioned whether he ought to be trying to solve mysteries, or if perhaps he needs to give that up, and so on.  Very nicely done, and something I ponder myself a lot.  I'm a wife and mother -- but I'm also a writer.  How much time and energy should I be putting into my writing right now?  How much can I do without it detracting from my family calling?  And so on.  In fact, you'll see below that my two favorite lines from the whole book dealt with this issue.

I really cannot wait to read more of this series. 

Particularly Good Bits: 

"Doing what you're made to do the best you can do it, even if it's not the usual thing, glorifies God more than pushing yourself into a role you're not suited for" (p. 105).

"Don't let anyone despise the gifts you've been given, and don't you do so, either.  They may not fit anyone else's idea of a calling, but the world has all sorts of needs, and God has provided for each of them to be filled, if we all do our part.  It would be a shame if your part were left undone" (p. 303).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  a soft PG-13 for violence, drug use, and dangerous situations.  No bad language or innuendo at all.  People kiss several times.

Note:  I received a copy of this book from the publisher for me to read while judging the INSPY awards.  In no way did I agree to review this book in exchange.  These are my honest opinions.

Monday, July 3, 2017

"Destry Rides Again" by Max Brand

If you have ever seen the movie Destry Rides Again (1939), you  might think you know what this book is about.  I know, because I love that movie, and so I picked up this book at a cute little used bookstore up in the Shenandoah Valley thinking it would be similar to the movie.  After all, the cover even touted it as the basis for the movie, as you can see.

Um, yeah, not so much.  Now, the main character in both the book and the movie does have the last name 'Destry,' and there's a moment in both of them where he's in a bar and he orders a non-alcoholic drink and gets laughed at.  

But that's it.  Everything else, completely different.  However, that doesn't mean I didn't dig this book!  Because I totally did, once I got through the first couple chapters and realized that the movie does not follow the book at all.  (There's a 1932 movie that looks a bit more like the book, but I haven't seen it.)

In the book, Harry Destry is a proud and boastful punk who likes to go around proving he can out-ride, out-shoot, and generally out-do any man he meets.  He gets blamed for a train robbery he didn't commit, and the jury sentences him to prison because they don't like him.  When he gets out of prison, he sets about ruining or killing the jurymen... and if you're thinking this sounds like a western version of The Count of Monte Cristo, well, I thought so too.  And, as that's my second-favorite book of all time, I very much enjoyed that similarity!  But unlike Edmund Dantes, Harry Destry has one worth opponent who nearly bests him. 

Also unlike Edmund Dantes in Monte Cristo, Harry Destry discovers the emptiness of revenge before he loses the woman he loves or the boy who has helped him survive the frightened wrath of those he's hunting.  The ending of this book was so full of shiny awesome that I know I'll be re-reading this book again and again in the coming years.

Particularly Good Bits:  

Then silence gathered the house softly in its arms (p. 99).

Bullets fired from the saddle on a galloping horse are rarely more dangerous than a flight of wild sparrows (p. 108).

The wolf on the trail is a sleepy thing, and the wildcat is totally unobservant, compared with the eye of a young boy (p. 178).

Too much is made of guilty consciences.  They generally begin to work on criminals after the stern hand of the law has grasped them by the nape of the neck (p. 224).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  A strong PG for western violence of many sorts, some mild bad language, and a lot of suspenseful situations.  

This is my sixth book read and reviewed for the Adventure of Reading Challenge.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

"The Great Gatsby" by F. Scott Fitzgerald (again)

I know I've spent nine whole posts nattering on about this book, delving into all the things I find interesting or odd or cool or confusing.  But I'd like to do one final post to put down a few of my final thoughts on the book as a whole.

Why do I like this book?  I didn't like it the first time I read it.  I admired it the second time.  But this time through, yes, I liked it.  Quite a lot, really.  Which is odd, because I don't really want to be friends with any of the characters, and that's what usually makes me like or love a book.  That's probably what keeps me from quite loving it. 

I realized while reading this that I am drawn to a specific sort of tragedy.  I only truly like tragedies that feel inevitable to me.  That don't give me a sense of, "Oh, if only the main character weren't being so stupid, this wouldn't have happened."  This is part of why I love Hamlet, but not King Lear or MacBeth or Othello -- I can't point at Hamlet and say, "If only he hadn't been so stupid, none of this would have happened."  If only King Lear hadn't been so blind to his daughters' true natures.  If only MacBeth hadn't been so power-hungry.  If only Othello hadn't been so insecure.  But, like with Hamlet, I don't think I can point at Gatsby and say, "If only he hadn't been so stupid."  Sure, he dreamed a dream that couldn't come true.  Sure, he was into some illegal stuff.  But the events in this are like an inevitable catastrophe, a natural disaster we can't stop, we just have to watch.

I'm not sure if I explained that well or not -- it's something I'm still turning over in my mind.

I also realized that I want to rescue Gatsby.  I want to just hop into this book and grab Jay Gatsby by one arm, Nick Carraway by the other, and say, "Boys, let's go to California for a few weeks and let things here just cool down and blow away for a while."  (I have a similar wish to whisk Hamlet away back to Wittenberg at the beginning of the play.)  So, in that sense, I do want to be a part of the story.  And I do wish I could prevent the tragedy.  

The writing in this book still astonishes me with its vibrant, gauzy beauty.  Fitzgerald is amazing.

Somebody asked me why I think this book is worth reading.  Such a good question.  All kinds of bad stuff happens in this, from lying to adultery to manslaughter to murder.  There's some bad language.  Why read it? 

To me, it's worth reading because it is a very poignant meditation on what it means to lose a dream.  We all have dreams.  We all have illusions.  And I think this book shows how important it is for us to recognize what is real and what can never be real.  If we get so wrapped up in how we imagine life should be or could be, we run the risk of jeopardizing the people around us, our own lives even, in pursuit of something that isn't even real.  

And yet, the message of this book isn't "Stop dreaming."  Not at all.  I think the message is that we need to be careful not to mistake our dreams for reality.  That we need to be able to separate fact from fiction, to know what is and isn't possible.  Dream, but be careful as you pursue your dream.  Don't lose sight of what is while you're chasing what might be.

There's all kinds of other stuff going on in this, about class disparity and rich versus poor and East versus West, but I went into that a lot in the read-along and don't feel like repeating it. 

I've already listed off dozens of favorite lines during the read-along, so today I'll skip posting favorite lines.  I have many of them, so very many.

If This Was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for alcohol use, a traumatic death, implied sexual activity, extramarital affairs, and some language.

This is my tenth book read and reviewed for my second go-round with the Classics Club.

The "Great Gatsby" Giveaway

We have finished the Great Gatsby read-along!  And in less than a month, just as I'd hoped.  Time to celebrate with a giveaway.  PLEASE NOTE: This is open to everyone, world-wide! Not just participants of the read-along :-)  Here are the prizes:

TWO sets of THREE Art Deco-style postcards showing three lovely flappers.  I will draw TWO winners who will each receive three postcards as shown above. 

TWO sets of THREE greeting cards featuring something to do with The Great Gatsby.  The cards are blank inside and come with brown envelopes.  I will draw TWO winners who will each receive three greeting cards as shown above. 

ONE set of FOUR stickers featuring lines from The Great Gatsby.  Though I've realized that the one on the top right that says "I wish I'd done everything on earth with you" is actually a line from the 2013 movie -- I don't think it's in the book, is it?  But it's a cool anyway.  ONE winner will receive all four of these stickers.

I bought all of these prizes from -- totally cool place where I spend more money than I ought to, hee.  

In the comments, please give me your first and second choices for prizes!  I do my best to match winners to prizes they say they want, but it's not always possible.  I make no guarantees.

This giveaway runs through the end of Thursday, July 6. I will draw the winners on Friday, July 7, 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 Thursday, July 13, I will choose another winner and award your prize to them instead.

This giveaway is open worldwide!

Enter via this widget:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Great Gatsby Read-Along: Chapter IX

After Gatsby dies, people go right on making up crazy stuff about him.  Nick says most of the reports about his murder were "a nightmare -- grotesque, circumstantial, eager, and untrue" (p. 173).  That sounds just like all the stories people told about him at his parties, doesn't it?  But somehow, it's kind of fitting, isn't it?  James Gatz made up Jay Gatsby, so why shouldn't other people make up their own stories about him?  Kind of that "what goes around comes around" vibe.

I'm rather proud of Nick in this chapter.  He's probably proud of himself as well -- the only one who stuck by Gatsby with "that intense personal interest to which everyone has some vague right at the end" (p. 174).  Well, I'm glad Gatsby had Nick, at least.  

I'm very interested by Nick imagining that Gatsby tells him he "can't go through this alone" (p. 175).  Gatsby went through almost his whole life alone, or feeling alone, anyway.  Didn't fit in with his parents, didn't fit in with Daisy's world, didn't fit in with his own partygoers -- he was always alone, even in those crowds.  

Nick seems to generally think well of people, doesn't he?  He's quite sure Wolfshiem will come to the funeral, that Daisy will at least send flowers -- and again and again, people disappoint him.  No wonder he's a little cynical two years later as he writes this down.  Gatsby's not the only one who had illusions stripped away from him.

Nick goes through some interesting stages in this chapter.  First, he feels "responsible" (p. 174) for taking care of Gatsby's funeral arrangements.  Then he begins to have "a feeling of defiance, of scornful solidarity between Gatsby and me against them all" (p. 176).  And when people keep giving excuses for why they can't come to the funeral, he feels "a certain shame for Gatsby" (p. 180) because no one cares about him anymore.

And then there's Gatsby's dad, Henry Gatz.  Oh, I feel sorry for him.  And I'm rather proud of Gatsby -- his father says that Gatsby went home to see him and bought him a house a couple of years ago.  I'd forgotten that.  I thought that he left home and never looked back, but obviously he cared enough about his family to go provide them with a house once he was wealthy.  Good boy, Gatsby.  Was he also doing that to show off how rich he was?  Sure, but it was still kind of him.  It sounds like he'd been supporting them too, that "ever since he made a success he was very generous" (p. 183) toward him.

As for Gatsby's final father-figure, the man who "raised him up out of nothing, right out of the gutter" (p. 182), Wolfsheim remains wolfish to the end, doesn't he?  Refusing to be involved in Gatsby's funeral in any way.  Nice guy, that Wolfsheim.

Oh, that issue of how many clothes you have pops up one more time!  Wolfsheim says that when he first met Gatsby, he "was so hard up he had to keep on wearing his uniform because he couldn't buy some regular clothes" (p. 181).  Yeah, the millions of shirts makes more and more sense, doesn't it?

I like Nick's musings at the end on how where you're born makes a difference in where you belong.  He says that "Tom and Gatsby, Daisy and Jordan and I, were all Westerners, and perhaps we possessed some deficiency in common which made us subtly unadaptable to Eastern life" (p. 187).  While I thought of Daisy and Jordan as Southerners, they certainly weren't from the east coast (and where was Tom from, anyway?  Chicago?).  This interested me very much, because I am from the Middle West (as Nick calls it) myself, and I lived in Connecticut for three years as an adult -- we moved there when Sam was 2 months old -- and I never, ever felt like I belonged there.  I was not a bit sad to move away, and that's unusual for me.  I guess I was subtly unadaptable to Eastern life too.

I think Nick grew up a lot over the course of that summer, don't you?  He didn't have the guts or determination to break off his relationship with the girl he left behind when he came east.  But he goes and makes his break permanent from Jordan.  I'm intrigued by her final remarks.  She says, "I thought you were rather an honest, straightforward person.  I thought that was your secret pride" (p. 189).  Hang it all, I still think he's honest and straightforward -- and I think his making sure Jordan knows they're finished only increases that.  On the other hand, he never went forward and told the cops that it was Daisy who killed Myrtle, so maybe that's what Jordan's talking about?  Did she perhaps want Daisy to have to take responsibility for her actions at long last?

I definitely agree with Jordan about Nick's secret pride, though -- he's rather enjoyed looking down his nose at the shenanigans of everyone around him, hasn't he.  And he continues doing so, telling Tom off about siccing Wilson on Gatsby.

And here we are at the end.  I don't have anything wonderful to say about the book's final lines.  They're amazing and give me goosebumps, those last couple of paragraphs, but that's about all I have to say about that.  

Thanks so much for joining in this read-along, everyone!  I've really enjoyed drinking up the beauty and splendid sadness of this book, and sharing thoughts with you all.  I've learned quite a bit from you too, which is my favorite part of read-alongs :-)  This afternoon, I'll be starting up a giveaway to celebrate our completing the book, so be sure to watch for that.

Favorite Lines:

"Let us learn to show our friendship for a man when he is alive and not after he is dead" (p. 182-83).

I wanted to leave things in order and not just trust that obliging and indifferent sea to sweep my refuse away (p. 188).

There was nothing I could say, except the one unutterable fact that it wasn't true (p. 190).

He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it.  He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark field of the republic rolled on under the night (p. 192).

Possible Discussion Questions:

What do you think of James Gatz's childhood resolutions and daily regimen?  Do you think he stuck to those?  His father says he "always had some resolves like this or something" (p. 184).  Do you think he had them as an adult too, to help him on his quest to reclaim Daisy?

Speaking of quests, I've never read Don Quixote, but I've seen a movie version and know the basic gist of the story.  Do you think Quixote and Gatsby have any similarities?

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

"If I Run" by Terri Blackstock

How is it I've never even heard of Terri Blackstock before?  Oh my word!  This book is a freight train barreling into the night.  I know there's a sequel coming, and I am definitely going to read it.

Casey Cox's good friend has just been murdered, and she's being framed for it.  Doesn't help that she's the one who discovered the body, and her DNA is all over the crime scene.  She runs, convinced that she'll either go to jail for a murder she didn't commit or else get killed herself.

Dylan Roberts is a recently discharged soldier battling PTSD from his days in the Middle East.  He's also a childhood friend of the dead man, and he gets hired by the grieving parents to find Casey and bring her to justice.

Then there's Laura Daly, a girl who disappeared two years ago, when she was only fourteen.  Casey stumbles on evidence that could lead to Laura's discovery and rescue, but only if Casey risks being found herself.

This book literally had my heart pounding during the last few chapters.  It's been a long time since I read a book that did that.  If you're into suspenseful mysteries that don't wrap up entirely neatly by the end, but lead to future books, definitely read this!

Particularly Good Bits:

Doubts crest like vultures in my mind, circling my theories, swooping to feed on them.  They make me second-guess my competence, my objectivity, my skills (p. 233).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for violence and suspenseful situations, references to alcohol, and spousal abuse.  No bad language, no racy scenes, but there is an unwed mother involved.

Note:  I received a copy of this book from the publisher for me to read while judging the INSPY awards.  In no way did I agree to review this book in exchange.  These are my honest opinions.

2017 INSPY Award Winners!


The winners of this year's INSPY Awards have been officially announced!  I had such a great time judging the Mystery/Thriller category, and I absolutely love the book that we chose as the winner:  If I Run by Terri Blackstock.  I'll be posting my review of it in a few minutes.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

"Waiting for Normal" by Leslie Connor

I very nearly loved this book.  I certainly love the girl it's about, Addie.  She's one of the coolest, gutsiest, realest YA characters I've read in a very long time.  I will re-read this book.

However, I will not be letting my kids read this book until they're in their teens.  First, because the protagonist, a girl named Addie, gets her period and starts wearing bras, and I'm pretty sure they won't be comfy reading about that until they're older -- especially Sam, heh.  But second because there's a secondary character who is gay.  He has a boyfriend, and it doesn't go into any detail about this, but that's another conversation we're not going to have for a few years yet, thanks.

So anyway, Addie is amazing.  Like, the most spunktacular kid I have read about in years, but in a totally realistic way.  Her dad died when she was tiny, and her mom remarried a very cool guy.  They had two daughters together, and then got divorced.  Because Addie's mom has problems.  I don't know if she's manic-depressive or bi-polar or what, but I do know she is an unfit mother.  

Addie and her mom move into a tiny trailer home, basically a camper, courtesy of her ex-step-dad, who tries to remain in Addie's life because she clearly needs a stable adult around somewhere.  Addie's mom spends most of her time on the internet, staying up late and then waking up sometime in the afternoon, about when Addie gets home from school.  Addie does basically all the cleaning and all the cooking.  All the laundry.  Everything.  Her mom sits in front of the computer.  That is, she does when she's home.

The woman disappears for days at a time.  Addie fends for herself with the help of new friends she makes, the people who run a gas station nearby.  And the most amazing thing?  Addie doesn't feel sorry for herself like 99% of the time.  This is her life, so she lives it.  She's resourceful, she's intelligent, she's savvy, she's cheerful.  She has trouble studying because she has dyslexia, but she learns quickly aside from that.  Oh, and she's compassionate and quick to forgive too. 

But she's also just a twelve-year-old kid.  Bad stuff happens, and she tries to cope the best she can, but... she can't fix everything.  She can't be a mother to her own mom.  She can't save her neighbor who's dying of cancer.  Addie is a mighty girl, but she's not a superhero.  She's real, she's flawed, she's lonely and scared and brave and sad and all kinds of wonderful.  I want to adopt her or befriend her or something!

Happily, Addie gets a happy ending.  I was worried for a long time she wouldn't, but she does.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for the issues I described above, adults smoking, and a short sequence involving very real danger to a child.  

Monday, June 26, 2017

Great Gatsby Read-Along: Chapter VIII

As I write this post, I am treating myself to a moonshine truffle bar from the Chocolate Moonshine Co. in honor of Jay Gatsby.  Supposedly, this truffle bar has real moonshine in it.  Supposedly, Gatsby made money selling moonshine.  It's all good.  Especially the chocolate, which I have to say is WAY better than actual moonshine.  Which I have also had, and not the stuff they sell in gift shops along the interstate in Appalachia, but real white lightning that was confiscated from an illegal still.  It was like what I imagine swallowing acid would be like.  Tasteless, odorless, clear as water -- and how it burned! 

Actually, this chocolate kind of tastes the way Fitzgerald's words feel in my mouth -- rich and smooth, with a little edge to it.


I really don't know how to write about this chapter.  It kinda breaks my heart, in a fictional way.  I've realized over the past couple of days that I feel very protective of Jay Gatsby -- I want to jump into this book and rescue him from himself and everything else.  I get this way sometimes, especially in relation to seemingly powerful male characters, which sounds wacky, but it's true.  I want to go save Jay Gatsby.  But I can't.  As Nick says, "'Jay Gatsby' had broken up like glass against Tom's hard malice" (p. 157).  

So we learn some hard things in this chapter, as Gatsby's dream slips through his fingers for good.  We learn Daisy was the first "nice" girl he'd ever known, and that "many men had already loved Daisy" (p. 158), whether from a distance or physically, I'm not sure.  We learn Jay "took" Daisy five years ago, "took her because he had no real right to touch her hand" (p. 158).  I want to shake my head at them, but I'm too sad over this chapter to bother.

Interesting that, having made love to Daisy, Jay feels as if he's "committed himself to the following of a grail" (p. 158), even feels as if he's married to her.  All the expected reactions to Daisy and Jay getting intimate are backwards -- we expect the girl to feel as if they're married, or should get married, and to feel shy, maybe even betrayed.  But when they meet again, "it was Gatsby who was breathless, who was, somehow, betrayed" (p. 159).  Because even back then, Daisy was rather heartless, I guess.  Heartless and remote, untouchable even though she's been touched.  She's the one who used him, not the other way around.  

There's a line there that I hadn't remembered.  Nick says that "Gatsby was overwhelmingly aware of the youth and mystery that wealth imprisons and preserves, of the freshness of  many clothes" (p. 159 -- emphasis mine).  That explains the shirts, doesn't it?  He grew up poor, only having maybe one or two sets of clothes, living in the same ones day after day after day.  He told Nick exactly how many new shirts and pairs of trousers old Dan Cody gave him when he signed on to help sail the yacht.  Now that he's rich, he revels in never wearing the same shirt twice.  It's ALL about the money and class, all of it.  That's why he had to show them off to Daisy, I think -- to prove to her he's reached her level.  He has the freshness of many clothes now.

Then Nick leaves.  And he gives Gatsby a compliment, and he says he's glad he did because he'd never given him another one.  Why?  Because Nick "disapproved of him from beginning to end" (p. 164).  I'm so intrigued by this!  And I don't know what to make of it.  Nick pretty clearly idolizes Gatsby -- I mean, he's writing down this whole story to memorialize him, in a way.  He idolized Gatsby, but he disapproved of Gatsby.  He disapproved of Tom and Daisy and Myrtle too, but we get that really clearly.  Do we get a sense throughout the book that he disapproves of Gatsby?  Or is Nick here trying to convince himself -- and us -- that he disapproved of him?  I don't even know!!!  I want to hear your thoughts.

But I suppose we ought to talk about Wilson a bit.  I'm always so moved by his speech about telling Myrtle that she can fool Wilson, but not God, and he's gesturing toward the billboard with the giant eyes.  They say there's truth in advertising... maybe sometimes advertisements can even inadvertently inspire people to realize true things?

Last thing.  I've always wondered if Gatsby was considering committing suicide by drowning himself.  Has that occurred to anyone else?  He's never used that pool all summer, but he decides to use it now.  I feel like maybe he decided to hang out in the pool until he lost all hope of Daisy ever calling him, and then, if he wanted, he could just slide off his inflatable raft thing and never resurface.

Favorite Lines:

He was clutching at some last hope and I couldn't bear to shake him free (p. 157).

At the grey tea hour there were always rooms that throbbed incessantly with this low, sweet fever, while fresh faces drifted here and there like rose petals blown by the sad horns around the floor (p. 160).

Possible Discussion Questions:

What do you think Gatsby meant when he said, "In any case, it was just personal" (p. 162)?

Nick says that Gatsby "paid a high price for living too long with a single dream" (p. 172).  Do you think that was Gatsby's real problem, that he couldn't let go of a dream and find a new one?  Or that he only had one instead of several?

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Great Gatsby Read-Along: Chapter VII

Oh, I hate this chapter.

It's not even Myrtle's death that makes me hate it, it's that horrible scene in the hotel room.  It's so claustrophobic, so sickening somehow -- I had to force myself to read it today, and it made me feel nauseated.  Ugh.

The power in Fitzgerald's writing is staggering sometimes!

I really hate heat, and unremitting, dauntless heat like he describes here is just abominable, to me.  I would not have fared well before air conditioning was invented.  Or I would have moved to Alaska at long last.  So that's part of it.  And Fitzgerald really makes the heat vivid and real, doesn't he?  

This is such a long chapter that I can only touch on some things that interested me.  Like Daisy and Tom's daughter, and the way her presence strips another of Gatsby's illusions away from him.  Nick says, "I don't think he had ever really believed in its existence before" (p. 123).  But there she stands, undeniable, tangible evidence of Daisy and Tom's marriage.  He can't erase a child like he thinks he can erase past events.

Jordan says that "Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall" (p. 125), which echoes Nick's stating at the very beginning of the chapter that he held to "that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer" (p. 4).  I'm pretty sure there are some interesting conclusions we could draw about their different personalities and roles in the story, based on these two statements, but I've yet to figure out what I think about them.  You?

One thing I'd like to delve a little more into here is Daisy's voice.  Gatsby says, "Her voice is full of money" (p. 127).   Nick thinks that's exactly right.  But all through the book he's been describing it in musical terms.  There he says it  has "jingle" and "the cymbals' song."  Earlier, he said that "each speech is an arrangement of notes that will never be played again" (p. 10).  Nick talked about Daisy's voice "glowing and singing" (p. 15), her words "running together in a soothing tune" (p. 19).  And at the end of chapter five, he said of the way Gatsby was watching Daisy, "I think that voice held him most, with its fluctuating, feverish warmth, because it couldn't be over-dreamed -- that voice was a deathless song" (p. 102).  Wow.  That must be some voice!

Moving right along, we go back to that whole issue of appearances.  Tom insists Gatsby's not an Oxford man because he wears a pink suit.  What you look like on the outside is a kind of code for who you are and where you've been, what you've done.

I'm not the only one feeling ill.  Wilson is literally sickened by the discovery that Myrtle has been unfaithful.  I like Nick's observations when he realizes that both Wilson and Tom have undergone the same experience, finding their wives love another man, but they respond to it so differently.  Wilson is almost destroyed by it, but Tom is emboldened, in a way.  He's convinced it's perfectly all right for him to be running around with another man's wife, but when it's his wife who's been touched by another man, it's Very Wrong.  (And I think we can assume that all those afternoon visits Daisy's been paying Gatsby have involved sex.  He wouldn't have fired all his servants to stop gossip if there was nothing more going on than a game of chess and a glass of tea.)

So we go to the city and have a horrible time, everyone uncomfortable physically and emotionally, and finally Tom and Gatsby have things out a bit.  Tom calls him "Mr. Nobody from Nowhere" (p. 137), and I feel like he's really taken Gatsby's measure by this point.  I'd like to say Tom is all wrong about everything because I don't like Tom, but really, he knows what's going on AND he knows what the worst possible thing to say to Gatsby would be.  Gatsby has spent his adult life proving to himself and everyone else that he is Somebody... but it's just pretending.  The same as he's pretending to himself that Daisy has loved him all this time -- and only him, never Tom.  He makes a last-ditch effort to wipe away the past and rewrite their lives, but reality won't let him.

During the horrible fight at the hotel, Jordan and Nick try to leave, but Tom and Gatsby insist they stay, and Nick says they behave as if "it would be a privilege to partake vicariously of their emotions" (p. 138).  Isn't that kind of what we're doing, as readers?  Watching these people, and vicariously experiencing their emotions?  Such an interesting thought.

And it's Nick's birthday.  He's thirty now.  

Then we have the tragic accident.  The mini-climax that sets the events of the last couple chapters in motion.  Myrtle is struck and killed by Daisy driving Gatsby's car.  You know how I've said (in comments, anyway) that Gatsby is fascinatingly unknowable?  So indistinct -- we think we know something about him, and then we see more and find what we thought we knew wasn't quite right.  I've even looked up the MBTI typing for him, and I've found him typed as an ISFJ, INFJ, INFP, INTJ, ISFP, and ENFJ -- there's almost no consensus, aside from most people agreeing he's an introvert.  He's like a mirage, isn't he?  Even his car is hard for people in the story to see distinctly -- the only eyewitness to the accident thinks it was light green.  This fascinates me as a writer.  I keep trying to figure out how Fitzgerald accomplished this, but nope, haven't yet.

Anyway, there's a tragedy, then Nick and Tom go back to the Buchanan estate.  Tom and Jordan go inside, but Nick starts to walk home, only to find Gatsby lurking in the shrubbery.  Now, I personally think it's really sweet and gallant and noble of him to have rigged up this signal with Daisy about turning lights on and off if Tom gets violent toward her, so Gatsby can rush in and save her.  Sure, it would soothe Gatsby's ego to play the hero, but the truth is, Tom is fully capable of hurting Daisy.  He broke Myrtle's nose just because she was being annoying.  And remember at the verrrrrrrrry beginning of the book, when Nick when over to the Buchanan's that first time?  Daisy shows Nick and Jordan her little finger, and "the knuckle was black and blue" (p. 13).  She tells Tom he did it, then adds, "I know you didn't mean to, but you did do it" (p. 13).  Man, if that doesn't sound like an abusive relationship, what does?  The abuser is so often very penitent afterward, and insists that hurting the other person was an accident, or not the abuser's fault -- I would be very afraid for Daisy, if I were Nick and Gatsby.  Nick doesn't see it, but maybe he's just not run into that sort of behavior before, whereas Gatsby has had a much rougher life, and knows what's possible?  I don't know.  Nick does go back to see if there's anything untoward going inside, but all he sees are Tom and Daisy sitting companionably together, with the sort of "natural intimacy" (p. 154) that comes from belonging together.

So we leave Gatsby there, "watching over nothing" (p. 155), just like he's been dreaming about nothing and working toward nothing all this time.  Oh, poor Gatsby and his rapidly evaporating illusions!

Favorite Lines:

Over the ashheaps the giant eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg kept their vigil (p. 131).

They were gone, without a word, snapped out, made accidental, isolated, like ghosts, even from our pity (p. 143).

Before me stretched the portentous, menacing road of a new decade (p. 143).

So we drove on toward death through the cooling twilight (p. 144).

Possible Discussion Questions:

Nick thinks Tom was afraid Daisy and Gatsby "would dart down a side street and out of his life forever" (p. 133).  Do you think there was ever a possibility of that happening?

Daisy tells Gatsby he wants too much -- that her loving him now should be enough.  Why do you think Gatsby is incapable of accepting just her love of the present?

Nick says that "Human sympathy has its limits" (p. 144).  What does he mean by that?  Do you agree with him?

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Great Gatsby Read-Along: Chapter VI

This chapter begins amusingly enough, with little tales of Gatsby's notoriety -- my favorite being that "he didn't live in a house at all, but in a boat that looked like a house and was moved secretly up and down the Long Island shore" (p. 103).  That cracks me up.

But we quickly move to more serious stuff, particularly the true story of Gatsby's background.  Or, more truthfully, what Nick Carraway believes is the truth about him, that he was in fact a nobody named James Gatz who reinvented himself as Jay Gatsby and has been ever since living as "the sort of Jay Gatsby that a seventeen-year-old boy would be likely to invent" (p. 104).

I did this as a teenager, did you?  Make up a different version of myself who was all the things I wasn't, and imagine all kinds of great stuff about myself.  Like I was a movie star who made films with all my favorite real-life movie stars.  Or I owned a giant ranch back in the Old West and employed all my favorite fictional cowboys from all kinds of old TV shows and movies.  Great fun.  

But I never did what James Gatz did.  I never tried to actually live out one of my dream lives.  I was happy enough in my real life that I contentedly left my pretending inside my head.  James Gatz was not.  Maybe that's because my parents are very loving people who raised me in a comfortable middle-class lifestyle, while Gatsby's parents "were shiftless and unsuccessful farm people" (p. 104).  Or maybe it's just that I'm a completely different sort of person than he was -- I'm content to spin amazing fantasies to this day, but I don't feel the need to experience them.  

Random thing:  that "small Lutheran college of St. Olaf's in southern Minnesota" (p. 105) where Gatsby attended for two week -- it really exists.  I know, because I myself attended a small Lutheran college in a different southern Minnesota city.  Cowboy was on our debate team, and he debated people from St. Olaf's.  I've been on the campus once or twice, though I forget why.

Anyway, James Gatz became Jay Gatsby one fateful day when he rescued a rich dude named Dan Cody who anchored his yacht in the wrong part of Lake Superior.  

(Alan Ladd and Henry Hull in the 1949 movie version)

 Dan Cody basically adopted Gatsby, introduced him to the finer things of life, and taught him to run with the rich folks.  But all those years with Cody couldn't teach Gatsby quite how to fit in with born-to-riches people, as we see in this chapter when Tom arrives with some pals at Gatsby's mansion.  Gatsby's too eager, too pleased -- he keeps saying he's delighted they're there, and so on.  Nick notes, "As though they cared!" (p. 108).  I think that's such a very, very telling line.  Nick himself was born in the upper classes, though to a family that worked their way up there.  Nick knows Tom and his pals don't care.  Gatsby doesn't know.  And Gatsby cares too much -- that's a big part of why he doesn't quite mesh in that world, I think.  Gatsby cares too much.  He hasn't learned to shrug life off, to be content with boredom.  He keeps reaching, keeps yearning, keeps needing.

And he's oblivious to the fact that this woman carelessly invited him to her dinner party, but has no desire to have him there.  He thinks an invitation means you're wanted.  After all, when he invited Nick over, it was because he wanted Nick to be there.  Gatsby misses out on social cues because he's not from that same level of society.  If he married someone and they had kids, their kids would likely turn out like Nick -- knowing how to move in this rich world.  But even coming into that higher society as a teen was too late for Gatsby to learn everything.

Then Tom and Daisy go to one of Gatsby's parties, and it's a disaster.  Nothing goes right, no one enjoys themselves -- Gatsby's dream of having Daisy at his side is one step closer, but it's not the way he imagined it.  What had been fun and amusing at the last party "turned septic on the air now" (p. 113), even for Nick.

Interestingly, it's not Gatsby alone who misunderstands something in this chapter.  He has his socially awkward mistake earlier, but at the party, it's Daisy who fails to understand the fun that people are having.  She's "appalled by its raw vigour that chafed under the old euphemisms" (p. 114) -- she's from the traditional, moneyed world that is rapidly falling to the wayside in the wake of Modern Life.  

I love how Nick jumps to Gatsby's defense when Tom says he must be a bootlegger.  I do identify a lot with Nick in this book, I've come to realize.  That swift loyalty, especially.

And at last, we get to Gatsby's very, very famous proclamation about time.  "'Can't repeat the past?' he cried incredulously.  'Why of course you can!'"(p. 117).  Gatsby's convinced himself that, by the sheer force of his own will, he can erase what happened before and start over again with Daisy.  After all, he's acquired this fortune, this house, this fame just because he decided to -- why shouldn't he be able to get the life he's dreamed up for himself and Daisy too, just because he decided to?  

Last thought.  In the structure of a play, at least in the classical structure, there's always a climax, also called a crisis, which is basically the point of no return.  The one spot where something happens, and everything after that will be determined by that one action.  Hamlet believing the Ghost.  Ilsa walking into Rick's bar.  Frodo standing up and saying he will take the ring to Mordor.  Everything after is a result of that decision.  Literature quite often has that spot too, and you could argue that for The Great Gatsby, the climax was in the previous chapter, when Gatsby sees Daisy again.  Or even when Nick agrees to have Daisy over to tea.  But I think you could also argue that no, the climax for this story happened five years before it began.  It could have been "when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath" (p. 118).  Everything that happened after that, including all of this book, was set into motion that one night, with that one kiss.  What do you think?  That can be one of our Possible Discussion Questions for today.

Favorite Lines:

It is invariably saddening to look through new eyes at things upon which you have expended your own powers of adjustment (p. 111).

(More) Possible Discussion Questions:

When Tom appears at Gatsby's for a drink, Nick says that "the really surprising thing was that it hadn't happened before" (p. 108).  What do you suppose Nick means by that?

Why doesn't Tom want to me known as "the polo player" at Gatsby's party?