Saturday, November 18, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Favorite Lines:

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

Discussion Questions:

Do you like mushrooms?

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

Thursday, November 16, 2017

"The Usurper's Throne" by Charity Bishop

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

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

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

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

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

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

Particularly Good Bits:

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

"Never let an opportunity for benevolence pass unnoticed."

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The "Cloaked" Kindle Giveaway!

It's true. I'm giving away three Kindle copies of my book Cloaked right now! Click here to go to the Amazon giveaway page and enter. No purchase necessary, void where prohibited, and only open to US residents because that's what Amazon allows, I'm afraid.

The giveaway runs through November 14, and three winners will find the e-book automatically added to their accounts on November 15.

Need something to read while you travel to visit relatives for Thanksgiving? Looking for something to while away those homework-free hours during your fall break? Or want something to amuse you while people nap in front of a football game after the big meal? This would work well for all three!

Another LOTR Read-Along: Three is Company (FOTR 1, 3)

Now we hit the place where the book begins to be substantially different than the movie. (Or, really, where the movie began to trim things, though the extended edition does have Frodo and Sam seeing elves at one point.)

And so the adventure really begins! Frodo says goodbye to Bag End (sniffle sniffle), and he sets off for Crickhollow. Is that not the coolest name for a house? I would love to have a house some day near a creek and a hollow so I could name it that.

But I digress. Not only do Frodo, Sam, and Pippin begin their journey, but we get introduced to the Black Riders too! I prefer to call them 'Nazgul,' but 'Ringwraiths' sounds cool too. They are ultra creepy, and I can see why they kind of get copied in other fantasy novels. It amuses me how Pippin fixates on the way the Black Riders sniff after Frodo -- when he says, "But don't forget the sniffing!" (p. 77), I always laugh aloud. Dear, dear Pippin.

And we meet our first elves! I have to admit that the Elves are not my favorite Middle Earth race. They're a little too cold or remote or reserved or something. Yes, too reserved for me to be friends with. But they fascinate me, nonetheless. And I do like their way of speaking. Not so much Elvish itself, though it's cool, but just their almost oratorical style.

There's a lot of poetry in this book, as you'll have discovered now. I will tell you a dreadful secret: I read the short poems and skim the long ones. I'm fine with you doing the same if you don't want to read the really long ones (which we haven't gotten to yet, these were all short).

One thing to keep in mind as we read is that Tolkien basically made up what we think of as "fantasy" today. There were fairy tales and "fairy stories" for kids back then (like The Hobbit), but the fantasy genre of today is rooted in The Lord of the Rings. It was pretty much the first fantasy book for adults to be at all successful or taken seriously.

Favorite Lines:

The road wound away before them like a piece of string (p. 72).

They passed slowly, and the hobbits could see the starlight glimmering on their hair and in their eyes (p. 78). "A star shines on the hour of our meeting" (p. 79).

Sam walked along at Frodo's side, as if in a dream, with an expression on his face half of fear and half of astonished joy (p. 80).

"The wide world is all about you: you can fence yourselves in, but you cannot for ever fence it out" (p. 82).

"But it is said: Do not meddle in the affairs of Wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger."
"And it is also said," answered Frodo: "Go not to the Elves for counsel, for they will say both no and yes" (p. 82-83).

"Courage is found in unlikely places" (p. 83).

"...may the stars shine upon the end of your road!" (p. 83).

Discussion Questions:

What do you think of the elves?

Who do you like better so far: Frodo, Sam, or Pippin?

Friday, November 10, 2017

Another LOTR Read-Along: The Shadow of the Past (FOTR 1, 2)

What always surprises me in this chapter is how much time passes between Bilbo leaving and Gandalf figuring out that the ring is, well, The Ring. This is probably because I saw the movie before I read the book, and in the movie, there are maybe a few months between the two, or so it seems to me. But here we learn that it's seventeen years!

Anyway, things start heating up a bit in this chapter. Things are changing in and around The Shire, and we learn all about how the Ring was forged, something of the power it wields, and the twisty path it took from Sauron's hand to Frodo's. We also get to hear about some other characters we'll be running into more soon, like Aragorn and Saruman and Gollum.

And we get into one of the bigger themes of the book: pity/mercy versus punishment/justice. Bilbo pitied Gollum and did not kill him when he had the chance, even though Gollum was planning to kill him. Gandalf says: "It was Pity that stayed his hand. Pity and Mercy: not to strike without need. And he has been well rewarded, Frodo. Be sure that he took so little hurt from the evil, and escaped in the end, because he began his ownership of the Ring so. With Pity" (p. 58). He goes on to say, "the pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many" (p. 58).

We also see the beginning of another major theme here: being chosen for something you don't believe you can live up to. Frodo says, "I am not made for perilous quests," and I can agree with that to some extent: he's a hobbit, used to a comfortable and quiet life in the country. Gandalf insists, however, that "you have been chosen, and you must therefore use such strength and heart and wits as you have."

Favorite Lines:

Everything looked fresh, and the new green of Spring was shimmering in the fields and on the tops of the trees' fingers (p. 45).

"All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us" (p. 50).

"Well, well, bless my beard!" said Gandalf (p. 62).

Discussion Questions:

What do you think about the theme of mercy/pity versus punishment/justice? Can anyone deserve mercy?

Have you ever felt like Frodo, that you can't possibly do what you must do? How did you get through that time?

Thursday, November 9, 2017

"Flashes of Splashes" by Elizabeth McCleary

Sometimes when I get really busy in Real Life, I don't have time to sink my teeth into a novel, so I grab an anthology of short stories because I know I can read individual stories here and there, as I have time.  If you like doing that too, and you're looking at your calendar for the next couple of months and thinking you're going to be awfully busy... then this might be the book for you.

Flashes of Splashes is a collection of flash-fiction stories, which means they're all VERY short, only a couple of pages each.  They all involve water in some way.  Thirty-one very different stories (well, two of them actually tell the same story from different sides) about water.  Many of them are speculative fiction -- fantasy or sci-fi.  Some of them are totally grounded in reality.  Most of them have a surprise twist at the end that makes you see the story in a new light.

My six favorites were:

~ "B is for Bubbles" -- it made me chuckle

~ "G is for Gulf" -- I loved the ending

~ "V is for Vortex" -- it surprised me

~ "Z is for Zawn" -- it's about pirates!

~ "Dancer" -- so sweet

~ "Water" -- I loved the twist at the end

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG for a few mild curse words.  I will probably marker over them and then let my 10-year-old read this if he wants to.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Top Ten Tuesdays: Where You Lead, I Will Follow

This week's TTT topic from The Broke and the Bookish is "Ten Characters Who Would Make Great Leaders."  I'm tweaking that a little to list off my top ten characters who lead so well, I would follow them.  So here we go!

I've put them in order by first name because... I have to have some sort of order.  Also, I spent like twenty minutes trying to decide if I should put Bard or Boromir first, and failing to come to any satisfactory conclusion.

+Aragorn from The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien

+Bard the Bowman from The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien

+Boromir from The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien

+Faramir from The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien

+Captain Frederick Wentworth from Persuasion by Jane Austen

+Gandalf from The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien

+Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter books by J. K. Rowling

+Captain Jack Aubrey from the Aubrey/Maturin novels by Patrick O'Brian

+Robin Hood, especially from The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle

+Roran Stronghammer from the Eragon books by Christopher Paolini

Um, yeah, there's a lot of Tolkien here.  Probably because I'm re-reading LOTR right now!  I just started another LOTR read-along, so if you're interested in joining that, you're hereby invited to do so!

Did you do a TTT list?  What leaders did you talk about?  Leave me a link to your list if you want to!

Monday, November 6, 2017

"As You Wish" by Cary Elwes with Joe Layden

I vividly remember the first time I saw The Princess Bride, even if I don't quite know when it was.  I know it was, at the very latest, July of 1992.  My mom, my brother, and I went to visit my aunt at her house one afternoon, just to hang out.  One of my cousins was there, a boy two years older than I was who very kindly did not tend to dismiss me for being younger or for being a girl.  He had made some sort of dessert that involved pudding and crumbled cookies.  For a special treat, he and my aunt offered to introduce my brother and I (and my mom) to a movie they absolutely loved and thought we would love too.

My brother, my cousin, and I all sat on the floor in front of the TV.  My mom and aunt probably sat in chairs -- I don't really remember that detail.  And we ate our dessert and watched The Princess Bride and by the end of the movie, I knew my life would not be the same.  Some stories are like that -- there's my life before them, and my life after them, and those lives are different.

Fast-forward about twenty-five years, to 2017, when my brother and I went to see The Princess Bride on the big screen.  We took my son, who is ten, and who had never seen it before.  Wonderful.

So anyway, I've wanted to read this book since it first came out, being a devoted fan of The Princess Bride.  (My brother and I named our second dog Westley after the title character.)  When I knew for sure that I'd be seeing it on the big screen this fall, I got this from the library, intending to have it all read before we went so I could regale my brother and son with fun stories from the production. 

Buuuuuuuuuuuuuuut life intervened.  Been kind of a weird fall for reading, in that I've been in the middle of several long books for a long time, and had very little reading time overall.  But I wedged this into my reading time, now I've finished reading this at last, and wow, I totally loved it.  The whole book is joyful, a celebration of how much fun it was to film this movie.  It's peppered with reminiscences from all the surviving cast members, the director (Rob Reiner), and the screenwriter (William Goldman, who also wrote the original book).  

Basically, if you love the movie, you will enjoy this book.  Especially if you enjoy learning about how films are made.  

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG for a couple occasional mentions of alcohol use and some mentions of rude humor and so on.  I don't recall there being any bad language, but there might have been some.

This is my tenth book read and reviewed for the Adventure of Reading Challenge 2017 hosted by Heidi at Along the Brandywine.  I signed up for the "Wrangler" level of 10-12 books, so I've hit the low end of that goal.  Let's see if I can read and review two more adventurous books by the end of the year to hit twelve :-)

Another LOTR Read-Along: A Long-expected Party (FOTR 1, 1)

This chapter delights me. I love learning about the customs and day-to-day life of other cultures, and every culture in Middle Earth is so thoroughly thought-out that they seem completely real. Sometimes I almost forget this is fiction and not a sort of sociologically and linguistically inclined history.

Aren't Hobbits just the best? On their own birthdays, they give other people presents. They know How Not To Be Seen. They're good at gardening and farming. I want to be Hobbit, I admit it. (I also want to be one of the Rohirrim, but we haven't gotten to them yet.)

Did you notice all that foreshadowing going on in this chapter? The Gaffer warns Sam Gamgee that he'll land in trouble too big for him, Gandalf's real business is described as "more difficult and dangerous" than conjuring cheap tricks, etc. Very subtle and nicely done.

Don't you want to see some of Gandalf's fireworks? They sound magnificent, and way better than even what they conjured up in the movies.

I don't know how many of you have read The Hobbit, but just thought I'd mention a random cool thing. The first chapter of The Hobbit is called "An Unexpected Party." The first chapter of this is "A Long-Expected Party." So fun.

Favorite Lines:

Before long the invitations began pouring out, and the Hobbiton post-office was blocked, and the Bywater post-office was snowed under, and voluntary assistant postmen were called for (p. 26).

The art of Gandalf improved with age (p. 27).

"I might find somewhere where I can finish my book. I have thought of a nice ending for it: and he lived happily ever after to the end of his days" (p. 32).

"I am as happy now as I have ever been, and that is saying a great deal" (p. 35).

"It was a compliment," said Merry Brandybuck, "and so, of course, not true" (p. 38).

"Look out for me, especially at unlikely times!" (p. 40)

Discussion Questions:

Frodo, Bilbo, and Sam are all unlike other hobbits. What are some clues in this chapter that tell us that? How do other hobbits view them?

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Another LOTR Read-Along: Prologue: Concerning Hobbits

Welcome to Another LOTR Read-Along!  As you know, I'm adapting these posts from the course I'm teaching my niece for high school.  The truth is, I'm actually using a lot of things from my first LOTR read-along to teach her, so if you compare these posts with those, you'll find a lot of similarities.  But I think I've got almost entirely different people participating here from that original foray, so I'm assuming that won't be a problem :-)

Today, November 1, is also the beginning of Nanowrimo.  I know a lot of people are participating in that, myself included.  To make this read-along feasible for several of our participants, I am only planning to do two chapters a week until December.  Then I'll up that to three a week until around Christmas, when it will dip again.  After New Year's, we'll go back to three posts a week (give or take) until we've finished the trilogy.  Hope that works for you!

If you've never done one of my read-alongs before, you might wonder how this works.  I'll post about each individual chapter with my own thoughts and observations, as well as some things I've learned in other books.  I'll always include my favorite lines and a question or two to get discussions going.  You then respond in the comments with your own thoughts, discuss what I've said, and engage each other in conversation.

Let's go!

Ahhh, Hobbits. Aren't they delightful? I love how Tolkien speaks of them as if they're real, saying they "are becoming hard to find." Helps me slip into the fictive world so easily.

Please don't get scared away by all the place names and different breeds of Hobbits listed here. You don't need to remember them; I won't quiz you on them. Anything and anyone important will get brought up again later. 

I don't know about you, but my house is full of mathoms, and I love the description here of them.

Favorite Lines:

But in the days of Bilbo, and of Frodo his heir, they suddenly became, by no wish of their own, both important and renowned, and troubled the counsels of the Wise and the Great (p. 2).

...they were, perhaps, so unwearyingly fond of good things not least because they could, when put to it, do without them... (p. 5).

...they liked to have books filled with things that they already knew, set out fair and square with no contradictions (p. 7).

Discussion Questions:

Do you usually read prologues and/or forewords?  Did you find this one useful or enjoyable?

Monday, October 30, 2017

Cover Reveal for "A Sidekick's Tale" by Elisabeth Grace Foley

I've been enjoying Elisabeth Grace Foley's books for years now.  I've read so many of her books: The Ranch Next Door and Other Stories, Left-Hand Kelly, Wanderlust Creek and Other Stories, Lost Lake House, Mountain of the Wolf, and my personal favorite so far, Corral Nocturne.  She inspired me to pursue writing westerns myself, and she's helped me with all sorts of self-publishing questions.  

Well, today I have the privilege to participate in the cover reveal for her latest book, A Sidekick's Tale.  Isn't it just, well, fun?

She's got some advance reviews up on Goodreads already, and it sounds like this story is going to be just as fun and quirky as the cover.  Here's the official synopsis:

Meredith Fayett needed to marry someone before the week was out or she would lose her ranch. It sounded simple, so ranch hand Chance Stevens agreed to take on the job, in spite of his friend Marty’s warnings that it could only lead to trouble. But even Marty, a loyal though opinionated sidekick, couldn’t have predicted the mayhem that ensues when his own eccentric relatives appear on the scene, dragging Chance, Marty, and Meredith into the latest skirmish in a long-running family feud. What follows is a hilarious tangle involving an emerald ring, a fearsome aunt, a scheming suitor, and a team of runaway mules—by the end of which Chance finds that even a marriage just on paper has its complications, and that it never hurts to have a good sidekick.

I can't wait to read it when it releases in November!

You can connect with Foley on her website, her Facebook author page, and on Goodreads and Twitter.  And if you haven't read any of her books yet, but you like clean stories with historical (often western) settings, what are you waiting for?

Saturday, October 21, 2017

"The Illuminated Catechism" Coloring Book by Tony Cook and Susan Spellman

It is HIGH time I reviewed another coloring book, don't you think?  Today I shall highlight The Illuminated Catechism, which pairs words from Martin Luther's Small Catechism with Bible verses and additional explanations by Tony Cook, devotional writing prompts, and gorgeous illustrations by Susan Spellman.  Of course, this is part of my on-going series on both my blogs about things related to the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation beginning.

You know what an "illumination" is, right?  A very intricate, detailed drawing used to illustrate the Bible or other book, generally done back in the Middle Ages, but there are much older examples too.  If you want to learn more, this Wikipedia article might be helpful.  

So anyway, this coloring book takes that idea and kind of does a modern version.  The book is split into sections like the Small Catechism.  It begins with the Ten Commandments.

Each two-page spread pairs text and pictures -- the one above is for the third commandment, and in the picture above, you can see that it has the commandment, then Luther's explanation, then some more pondering, then a Bible verse.  Cut off in that picture is an area on the far left for you to write some of your own thoughts, kind of a mediational journal:

There's a huge variety of pictures, and not all of them are "church-related" at first glance.  But they all make sense with what the opposite page is talking about once you read through it.

After the Ten Commandments, we have the Apostle's Creed and an explanation thereof.

Then comes the Lord's Prayer.

I can't wait to color this illustration for the fourth petition, "Give us this day our daily bread."  Aren't those sheep cute?

This is the first picture I colored in this book.  I used colored pencils for this one, though the other pages I've colored are done with some new gel pens I got for my kids.  

After the Lord's Prayer comes a section on the Sacraments, and then this cool part on all sorts of different prayers.  They have Martin Luther's morning and evening prayers, but then space to write down some things of your own. 

There's also a page about vocation that talks about our duties as children of God.  I really want to color this illustration soon too.

And at the end, there's a section about the three main "solas" of the Reformation:  Sola Gratia (by grace alone), Sola Fide (by faith alone), Sola Scriptura (by scripture alone).  I'm hoping to post more about these another day, probably on my Soliloquy blog instead.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Announcing Another "Lord of the Rings" Read-Along

Okay, I'm going to do this!  I'm going to host a second read-along of The Lord of the Rings.  You are hereby invited to join me! Whether you've read LOTR many times, or never read it. Whether you read it and liked it, or read it and hated it. I welcome all comers who want to read and discuss and learn!

There is no "sign up" process for this, but if you want to share a button on your own blog, or leave me a comment saying you plan to participate, go right ahead!

If you've never participated in one of my read-alongs and are curious about how they work, basically I will write a post for each individual chapter. Each post will contain my own thoughts on the chapter, some favorite lines, and a discussion question or two that I think people might want to ponder. All participants are then invited to discuss the chapter in the comments, both with me and with each other. You don't have to stick to the questions I ask!

I realize that NaNoWriMo begins that same day.  I myself am planning to Nano in a small way, with the aim of knocking out the first draft of my next fairy-tale-reimagined-as-a-western.  I intend to post three chapters a week, so it won't be a huge chunk of reading/discussing each week.  But if you feel like Nano and a read-along would be too much, I'm okay with you catching up with us after you're done.  

Also, I know there are quite a few holidays coming up in the next few months.  While I will try to post 3 chapters a week, obviously there will be weeks where that's not feasible for me or for you.  That's more like a guideline, actually, not a hard-and-fast schedule.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

"Luther: Biography of a Reformer" by Frederick Nohl

I'm pretty sure I've read this before, back in middle school or high school.  But I enjoyed re-reading it nonetheless, and I'm thinking I'll have my son read it as part of his homeschool curriculum this fall.  It's definitely easy enough that someone with a middle-school-level reading ability should be able to understand and enjoy it.

This book isn't even 200 pages long, so it's not a very in-depth look at Luther and his theology.  Rather, it's a good overview of his life, with lots of information about the political and social aspects of the world he lived in.  Anyone who is interested in understanding how and why Luther tried to reform the Roman Catholic Church, the impact his actions had on the world as a whole, and why we're still talking about him 500 years later would probably get a lot from this book.

I was not 100% crazy about the writing style, to be honest.  The author wrote most of it as a straight history, which is what I wanted.  But once in a while, he would write out a scene as if it were fiction, putting dialog in people's mouths and so on.  And I guess I'd rather have one or the other -- either straight history or biographical fiction, not a mix of the two. That is a personal glitch, though, and not one that would cause me to tell people not to read this!

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG.  It's very clean, but there are some stressful parts where Luther's life is in danger and so on.  

Obviously, this is another post in my series about the 500th anniversary of Luther nailing his 95 these to the Wittenburg church's door.  I've started posting more about this on my other blog too, if you're interested.

This is my tenth book read and reviewed for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2017.  Getting close to my goal of twelve!

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Would You be Interested in Another LOTR Read-along?

At the end of the Tolkien blog party, I asked a couple people if they would be interested in me hosting another read-along of LOTR.  

Ordinarily, I wouldn't consider hosting a second read-along of a book I've already covered, but it so happens I'm using LOTR in the high school lit course I'm teaching my niece this fall.  The whole reason I've had to quit doing read-alongs except in the summer is because I don't have time to teach her AND lead read-alongs.   Except, if I lead another LOTR read-along, I could just adapt my posts for her and use them for the general read-along.  I think I could handle that.

If enough people are interested, I will do this!  I would probably start it at the beginning of November, just to give people a chance to find out about it, decide to join, and get a copy of the book.

So... if you're interested, say so in the comments here, and let me know if a November start date would work for you!  We would do about 3 chapters a week, so this would take about 21 weeks, or from November 1 to probably the end of March.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Finally Fall Book Tag

I'm borrowing this from Joseph over at The Once Lost Wanderer.  We had about a week of what I consider to be fall weather in early October, but it's been hot and muggy again lately.  Still, the evenings are cool, trees are beginning to change color, and I've got that energized-and-creative vibe going on that I get in fall and spring, so yay!

For some reason, I keep hearing the voices of random cast members on Whose Line is it Anyway? reading these questions in the ridiculously perky voices they use whenever they're the "contestant" on the "dating show" game they do.  Which is cracking me up.

(Photo by me)

1. In fall, the air is crisp and clear: name a book with a vivid setting!

I'm going to go with The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, because Middle-earth is so vivid, I want to live there.  And not just because of the movies, but because of the way he describes all the places.  Every time I re-read it, I am in awe of his world-building.

2. Nature is beautiful… but also dying: name a book that is beautifully written, but also deals with a heavy topic like loss or grief.

I think Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen is an amazing look at how the death of one person can so drastically affect others.  Mr. Dashwood dies at the beginning, and his wife and daughters have their whole world upended.

3. Fall is back to school season: share a non-fiction book that taught you something new.  

The first one that comes to mind is Sixguns and Society: A Structural Study of the Western by Will Wright.  I learned so much about story structure from it, not only for westerns but just for all kinds of stories.  And I discovered a lot about what kinds of story elements really draw them, which I hope has helped me use them more effectively in my own writing.

4. In order to keep warm, it’s good to spend some time with the people we love: name a fictional family/household/friend-group that you’d like to be a part of.

Today I pick the Curtis family and their gang in The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton.  I'd love to marry Darry and help take care of Soda and Ponyboy, or move in next door to them and become their friend, or whatever -- I've actually imagined being part of their lives on and off since I first read the book.

5. The colorful leaves are piling up on the ground: show us a pile of fall-colored spines!

6. Fall is the perfect time for some storytelling by the fireside: share a book wherein somebody is telling a story.

All of the Nero Wolfe books are narrated by Archie Goodwin as if he were telling you a story, and I love them dearly!  My favorite is A Family Affair, but I don't recommend that you start reading the series with it, as it won't work as well if you aren't already familiar with the characters.

7. The nights are getting darker: share a dark, creepy read.

I don't read a lot of creepy books.  Can't deal with them, just like I can't deal with scary movies.  But I do like a dark story now and then.  My beloved Hamlet is quite dark, and creepy in spots too, I suppose.

8. The days are getting colder: name a short, heartwarming read that could warm up somebody’s cold and rainy day.

I think it would be hard not to be warmed and cheered by A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd.  It's so sweet and quirky and cheerful.

9. Fall returns every year: name an old favorite that you’d like to return to soon.

I get very much in the mood for The Hound of the Baskervilles by A. Conan Doyle in October, and this year is no exception.  Not sure if I'll squeeze in a re-read, but if not this year, then next year!

10. Fall is the perfect time for cozy reading nights: share your favorite cozy reading “accessories”!

Well, I kind of just read anywhere, anytime?  I read when I'm brushing my teeth.  I read when I'm waiting for water to boil while making lunch.  I read in the car (when I'm a passenger, don't worry).  So really, my favorite cozy reading accessories are a book and a bookmark. 

I mean, it's fun to sit by my fireplace on a chilly evening and read.  Or to sit on the swing in the backyard in the summer and read.  But really, I just want a book and a bookmark.

I'm not going to tag anyone with this, but if you love books and autumn and tags, feel free to fill this out!

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Winners of the "Cloaked" bookmark giveaway!

Congratulations to Niki T, Lydia B, Olivia F, Faith T, and Jessica G!  You won the giveaway of five bookmarks (handmade by me) that reflect some elements of Little Red Riding Hood that I used in Cloaked.  

Winners, I will be contacting you later today via the email address you supplied to the Rafflecopter widget.  I'll need your mailing address so I can send you your bookmark, so please keep an eye out for that email!

And everyone, thank you again for supporting me as I wrote, revised, and prepped Cloaked for publication.  In case you hadn't heard, I'm already working on the next story for my Once Upon a Western collection -- a retelling of "Twelve Dancing Princesses" set in the Old West!

Thursday, October 5, 2017

"Frames" by Loren D. Estleman

I was reading merrily along in chapter 18 when all of a sudden, I stopped breathing.  Not because I was choking, or because the book was suddenly terrifying.  But because, at the bottom of page 176, a character said, "I haven't seen so many cops in one place since they arrested John Landis."

And I stopped breathing and my heart started to pound because I know why John Landis got arrested, and the reason he did makes me EXTREMELY ANGRY AND SAD.  And the book as a whole has nothing to do with Landis, though it's all about Hollywood and movie-making and old movies and things like that, so it's not like this reference was out of place.  It was in perfect place.  I just wasn't expecting it.  

I stopped reading right there too, and told myself to breathe, and gathered my courage, and then made my eyes travel to the top of the next page where, sure enough, the next sentence was: "That would be for the accident that killed Vic Morrow and two child extras on the set of Twilight Zone--The Movie."  And I was very happy that Estleman included that, but I couldn't read any farther for like twenty minutes because I had to sit and think about Vic Morrow and be sad all over again for him.

You see, Vic Morrow is one of my favorite actors.  He starred as my favorite fictional character (Sgt. Saunders) in my favorite TV show, Combat! (1962-67).  And he and two children died, tragically and violently, on the set of Twilight Zone--The Movie when Landis broke all kinds of safety regulations and child labor laws.  And Landis was acquitted, in what I believe to be a terrible miscarriage of justice.  So, yeah, I got a little emotional over having that whole subject come up suddenly in the middle of what is otherwise a charming and playful mystery book.

As for Frames, it's a delightful book.  A film historian and preservationist named Valentino buys a crumbling old theater, finds a long-lost silent film inside, and then finds a dead body.  I liked the major players, the minor characters were memorable, and the mystery was engaging.  I will read more of this series.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  a soft PG-13 for some mild kissing and innuendo, the discovery of a skeleton, and possibly a little mild bad language, though I can't right now remember any words used in particular.  It could almost swing a PG rating.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

"A Mighty Fortress is Our God" by Martin Luther and Jason Jaspersen

I had grand plans to do posts all year long to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenburg church on October 31, 1517.  So far I've managed to do one over on my other blog.

Well, it's October.  And if I get myself in gear, I can STILL do a pretty cool series of posts about this. I've got quite a few books about the Reformation and Martin Luther I can review, plus some other thoughts to share, so I'll be doing that throughout October both here and on Hamlette's Soliloquy, Lord willing and my life doesn't get even busier.  And I'll begin with this review of a brand-new picture book!

This book is seriously cool.  The text is all four verses of Martin Luther's great and glorious hymn "A Mighty Fortress is Our God," and it's illustrated by Jason Jaspersen, a guy who attended the same college I did.  If you want to see what it looks like inside, the publisher's Facebook page has a video showing the interior pages.  The book also includes the tune at the back in case you don't know it or want to play the melody, and it includes the first verse of "God's Word is Our Great Heritage" at the back too, which can be sung to the same tune.

Jaspersen's illustrations are really striking and unique.  You know how in the Lord of the Rings movies, whenever Bilbo or Frodo put on the ring, they enter this sort of shadow world with unseen foes?  This feels a lot like that -- shadowy forms of angels, demons, and people all blurring together into one realm.  The "old evil foe" and his minions are depicted as a vast army in pointy armor trying to overtake the church and believers, and Satan is in one place depicted as a dragon-like creature being slain by Jesus as a knight in armor.  In fact, some of the pictures might be a little scary for very little kids -- my five-year-old (who just renamed herself Mad Dog yesterday) was fine with them, but I could see my three-year-old nephew finding them a little too freaky.  Just so you know.

In case you didn't know from my "Who Am I?" page or guess it from the fact that I want to highlight stuff about the Protestant Reformation and Martin Luther, I am a Lutheran.  I'm working on a post about what that means to me for my other blog, and hope to have it up before the week is out.  I'm putting that "500" icon with the Luther's Seal in it on the sidebars of both my blogs, and if you click on that, you'll go to all the posts in this series for that blog.  

Friday, September 29, 2017

"Cloaked" Release Day + Giveaway!

Today's the day!  Cloaked is officially available in paperback and e-book from Amazon right here.  

Wow.  This feels slightly surreal, to be honest.  I mean, I've spent how many decades thinking, "Someday, I will publish a book."  And someday is today.

Thanks to my ARC readers, there are already several reviews up on GoodReads.  Thank you, ARC readers!!!  You can now post reviews on the Amazon page too :-)

Yesterday, I asked people to hold off on ordering copies until today so we can see how big of a splash this book can make on Amazon's charts.  Today is here!  You can order now :-)  I'll pop back in later on to report on its stats.  I'm hoping we can show Amazon that yes, people want to read clean, wholesome, God-pleasing books.  #RebelliousWriting!

And yup, there's a giveaway.  Because, you know... I just can't resist doing them.

The picture shows one bookmark, but I'm giving away FIVE of them.

This is open world-wide.  Enter using the widget below, and please be sure to use an email address you check often.  I'll draw FIVE winners on Saturday, October 7, and notify them at the email address provided.  If you don't reply to claim your prize within one week, I will have to draw a new winner.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thanks to everyone who has supported me with your encouragement, time, prayers, and assistance!  Today would just be any other day without you, not my someday come true.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

A Request for Anyone Who Has NOT Ordered "Cloaked" Yet

Tomorrow is release day!!!

If you have not already pre-ordered Cloaked, could you do me a favor and hold off until tomorrow?  I'd like to see what happens if a whole bunch of people order all on the same day, namely Friday, Sept. 29.  Maybe we could make it climb a decent way up Amazon's charts for a bit!

Here's a link to its Amazon listing, for your handy reference.  And also a snippet from an advance review:

Tomorrow, I have a little giveaway planned to celebrate release day, so check back in for that!

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Second Fiddlers

This week's Top Ten Tuesday prompt from The Broke and the Bookish is "Top Ten Books with ___________ Characters."  I'm going to focus on "unforgettable secondary characters" which is kind of a vague way of saying this is my Top Ten Books With Secondary Characters I Care More About Than the Main Characters.

I have a habit with becoming extremely fond of side characters.  Who, in turn, have a habit of getting killed off and making me very sad.  But that doesn't happen to all of them, whew.  Here are ten books/series where my favorite character is actually not the main one.  If I've reviewed the book, I've linked its title to my review.

And Now Tomorrow by Rachel Field.  As much as I like Emily Blair, it's Dr. Merek Vance I read the book for.  This is probably a direct result of him being played by Alan Ladd in the movie version, I admit it.

Eragon (and entire series) by Christopher Paolini.  Eragon's okay, but his cousin Roran Stronghammer gets all my attention and allegiance in the series.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Schafer and Annie Barrows.  Not that I don't like Juliet Ashton, cuz I do.  But I LOVE so many of the minor characters, especially Dawsey Adams and Isola Pribby.

Harry Potter books by J. K. Rowling.  My favorite character is Sirius Black.  He's barely in most of the books, and gets talked about more often than he actually shows up, but I don't care. 

Inkheart by Cornelia Funke.  The only character in the book I liked much at all was Dustfinger.  I loved Dustfinger.  (I like the movie TONS better than the book.)

Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott.  Granted it's been over a decade since I read this, but as I remember it, Wilfred of Ivanhoe was an unrealistically good and flawless character.  Both Brian du Bois Guilbert and Rebecca were millions of times more interesting than he is.  So was Wamba.  And Robin Hood.

Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson.  Here's another one where I do really love the main character.  But Alan Breck Stuart is just so many kinds of amazing and wonderful that David Balfour kind of pales in comparison.

The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien.  Boromir is only in about half of one of the three books.  And he is absolutely my favorite character.  Though Sam does run him a reasonably close second -- and he's not really the main character either.

Middlemarch by George Eliot.  Dorothea is a fascinating, nuanced, real-seeming character.  But every time Ladislaw shows up, I just pay attention to him instead.

Rilla of Ingleside by L. M. Montgomery.  I'm probably going to be stoned for this opinion, but I don't like Rilla Blythe much at all.  I make it through this book by paying attention to Susan, who is loads more interesting.

Okay, that's it for this week.  Did you do a TTT post this week?  If so, what sorts of characters did you focus on?