Friday, July 31, 2015

July Reflections



Well, as everyone already knows, a ton of stuff has happened this month. In fact, this blog happened this month. Whew, that's enough of a change just on its own!

July Goals

I honestly didn't have any, which is good because I didn't read/review all that much this month. In fact, I didn't even plan to activate this blog, so anything and everything that has happened this month has simply been icing on the cake, as it were.

Books I Read


Nope, not a pretty picture, really, but I needed to take a break from reading and so I did.

Plans for August

I really need to read some books that I've just purchased, actually.

Tiffany Girl by Deeanne Gist 
Not by Sight by Kate Breslin
Murder at the Mikado by Julianna Deering
Emissary by Thomas Locke 
The Prayer Box by Lisa Wingate
+
Mind of Her Own by Diana Lesire Brandmeyer that I'm reading for Tyndale House
+
Homer's The Iliad for The Classic's Club

I'd love to get everything read, but at this point, I'm really just aiming for 5 total. We'll see what happens!

September Chapter-by-Chapter Read ~ Cornelia Funke's Inkdeath

Something new I'm planning to start in September and by then I should have this blog put entirely to rights with drop-down menus and everything! Woot, woot!

Anyway, I'm going to re-read Inkdeath, the final installment in Cornelia Funke's trilogy that I love so dearly. Having just recently read, but sadly not reviewed, Inkheart and Inkspell, I need to actually finish the series. But I have too many other books that need reading right now to get to it for at least a month.

So this will be a September read, and if all goes according to plan, I'll write a blog post for every 5 or so chapters that I read.

If anyone wants to participate and read-along/ blog-along, feel free. I'm actually giving you an entire month to read the first 2 books in the series, if you've never read them before, which I heartily recommend doing because my blog posts are going to be spoiler heavy.

Like I said, I've only read Inkdeath the once and I did it so quickly that nothing absorbed in my long-term memory. I hate it when that happens! So pretty much everything but a few niggly bits and pieces will be brand new to me and I will experience wonder and amazement as if I'm reading it for the first time. Dustfinger, I do remember, and what Cornelia does with his story arc is ASTOUNDING! Can hardly wait to read it again!

So get ready for September!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Where Treasure Hides by Johnnie Alexander

Where Treasure Hides
Johnnie Alexander
Tyndale House Publishers
2015
✯✯✯

Official Backpage Synopsis

Artist Alison Schuyler spends her time working in her family’s renowned art gallery, determined to avoid the curse that has followed the Schuyler clan from the Netherlands to America and back again. She’s certain that true love will only lead to tragedy—that is, until a chance meeting at Waterloo station brings Ian Devlin into her life. Drawn to the bold and compassionate British Army captain, Alison begins to question her fear of love as World War II breaks out, separating the two and drawing each into their own battles. While Ian fights for freedom on the battlefield, Alison works with the Dutch Underground to find a safe haven for Jewish children and priceless pieces of art alike. But safety is a luxury war does not allow. As time, war, and human will struggle to keep them apart, will Alison and Ian have the faith to fight for their love, or is it their fate to be separated forever?

My Take in 3 Parts

The Theme
Alison is a very passionate young woman regarding art. It is her sole pursuit, her one true love apart from Ian, and she is constantly faced with a question throughout Where Treasure Hides, something known as the Mona Lisa question. In other words, is art worth dying for?

If you were to ask my sister, she would likely say yes. An impassioned young woman herself, she lives and breathes art and holds the Monuments Men in very high esteem for their courageous protection of the great masterpieces from Nazi Germany during World War II. However, my sister also loves people, and if it came down to a choice between a painting or a person, she would pick the person hand's down. For myself, not really an art connoisseur, I wouldn't hesitate. Let the painting, no matter what it is, meet an ugly end if it means saving a human life.

Alison struggles with this concept and it bothers her that she struggles. Even though she spent a great deal of Holland's occupation safe-guarding Jewish children and delivering them into the arms of families who would take them in, the same niggling doubt still oppresses her. Which does she love more? Art or people?

The finale of this story is revelatory for her, a necessary moment where she realizes what she values most cannot be a work of art. It's a timeless theme of choosing life, and Ms. Alexander spun her tale around that theme very solidly. I applaud her for it.

I will say, though, that the whole Van Schuyler family "fate" thing, where no one in Alison's family life had a happily-ever-after was absurd. That's an unrealistic reason to not marry, especially if you're a Christian. Are you going to believe in a "curse" or put your faith in your Heavenly Father?

The Characters
Ian I loved as soon as he was separated from Alison and became a POW in Germany. He faced some truly ugly ordeals during his time there, and it toughened him in ways that I can respect, ways other than being so ardently in love with Alison. Just as Alison traverses her journey, so does Ian also traverse his own. Part of this means coming to terms with his anger and the violence he will enact on others in a righteous rage. He kills a Nazi with a farming implement and a rock because the man was taking advantage of a young woman. It's an unpleasant scene, but one indicative of life. I've known many men who struggle with anger, and so to have an upstanding Christian man also experience the same struggle made him more real for me.

Alison is one of those artistic types who can so easily lose herself in her work that she forgets everything else. I appreciate her attempts at loving, but I disliked her recklessness and unwillingness to listen to sound advice at first from her grandfather, father, and every other male authority figure in her life. Stubbornness is becoming a "thing" in Christian fiction heroines, and I'm not inclined to like it very much. Near the end of the book, her behavior is also so completely contradictory to what my own would have been, that I almost took a disliking her. I'm a Peggy Carter type and not one to simply assimilate into a bad situation and develop Stockholm Syndrome. I would have literally tried every possible means of escape until they had to truss me up like a chicken to keep from getting out. No such behavior from her, and I just wasn't buying it.

As a couple, Ian and Alison were likeable. I never fully connected to them as a whole, probably because they spend far more time apart than they ever did together within the pages of Where Treasure Hides. That style of timing doesn't allow for a whole lot of relational growth.

The Writing
The writing itself, as in the prose, the voice of the author, is excellent. It flows well without any hitches or hiccups that occasionally interfere with debut novels

However, I do wish that the book had somewhat different pacing. It literally spans the entirety of World War II, from 1939 to 1945, and that was entirely too long. I don't know how it could have been told any differently, but the pacing did make for a bit of an awkward read at times. Some of the best pacing was by far when Ian was in Germany. That entire section of the novel was brilliant, gritty, and agonizingly heart-wrenching. 

Final Thoughts

Unfortunately, Where Treasure Hides invariably weighs itself down with a few too many plot contrivances to be fully realistic. I understand that the Monuments Men were real. So let's leave them that way and not throw them in at the end of the novel as an afterthought. The same with Ian pretending to woo a woman we don't even really get to know because of a mission for king and country. He claims she is such a comfort to him during a hard time, but we've seen her have maybe one conversation with him. No connection so we can't feel the loss he feels when she leaves. There were too many plot threads that didn't quite lead anywhere and that I genuinely wish had been tied up. Plus, I'm not a fan of unresolved endings. One really major thing is left unresolved at the end of Where Treasure Hides, undoubtedly intended for a sequel, but I like my stand-alone novels to stand alone.

With all that said, keep an eye on Johnnie Alexander because I anticipate she could hit it big. She has so very much promise and I hope she continues putting pen to paper. Authors all have to start somewhere and this book really is a decent beginning.

NOTE - I received this book as a complementary copy from Tyndale House Publishers in exchange for an honest review, which I have given.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

My next Classics Club read shall be . . . The Iliad by Homer

I've been struggling quite a bit in how to round out my Classics Club reading list because everything appears to be written in the 1800s, probably because I love the British Romantics and the Victorians.

Such an ideal moment.

I'm walking through the Friends of the Library bookstore, just browsing, not really looking for anything specific.

Two small volumes catch my attention.

I whip them off the shelve.

It is Homer's The Iliad and The Odyssey.

Wait, they're not on my classics reading list.

Hmm, maybe they should be.

A 1/2 price sign twinkles at me from the bookstore entrance.

Coins clatter onto the counter and I walk out having paid $1.00 for both books.

Concluding my fun little story, my next Classics Club read is The Iliad, a book I have never read before, but am excited to try. No, it's not written in Greek because, much to your astonishment I'm sure, I don't actually read Greek. The book is translated by one W.H.D. Rouse, and I have no idea whether the translation is decent. My knowledge of The Iliad extends to it being originally written as an epic poem and intended for dramatic recitation and that knowledge goes no further.

So, dear friends, wish me luck!

And if you know of a better translation, please, please let me know!

And this blog popped out of where, exactly?

Dustfinger (Paul Bettany) in Inkheart (2009) based off Cornelia Funke's work
So, I've done something almost unthinkable, but also something I've meant to do for a year.

I've split my blog, Musings of an Introvert, into 2 blogs. I feel a little bit . . . strange having done this because change doesn't come easily for me. But I think in the long run, and probably the short run, this will streamline my blog posts in a way easiest for you, my readers.

Honestly, I hesitated to post book tags or participate in giveaways or write too many book reviews because I didn't want to irk some of my readers with too many "book related" posts. That will no longer be the case and so I can post about books, upcoming or classic, as often as I like for those of my readers who enjoy my book reviews and would like to see more of that ilk! So I'm finally, as I write this, letting some excitement start to flow.

Even though my beloved Dustfinger never overcomes his longing for the Inkworld, it doesn't mean I have to stick with the sameness of having just a single blog. Of course, if I were him and could manipulate fire into flower petals while in the Inkworld, I doubt I would be entirely pleased at being uprooted to our sad, ordinary world. No, not at all, and it is because I long to write posts about favorite literary characters, like Dustfinger, that I absolutely must do this split.

In fact, the split is already done. If you look back through my posts on Musings of an Introvert, you will find that all of the book reviews are gone. They have now migrated over to this blog, and so it will be from this point onward. For those of you still interested in reading about faith related posts, movies, my personal life, and any ISFJ posts that I may have written in the past, feel free to continue reading Musings of an Introvert. I won't stop updating it, I promise. Different doesn't translate into bad, only a new chapter. Who would read books at all if there was no climax and the characters never learned anything? I am in the midst of my learning.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Father Gilbert Mysteries continue . . . IN BOOK FORM!!!


A former Scotland Yard detective, Father Gilbert knows about death. But, now a priest of a modest Anglican church in the small town of Stonebridge, he didn't expect it to show up like this - in the suicide of a man who threw himself off the church tower, and in the discovery of a two-hundred-year-old body beneath an ancient bridge. The deaths are linked. The mummified corpse under the bridge, a murder victim, reignites a centuries-old battle between two local families - the Todds and the aristocratic Hayshams. Then both David Todd and Lord Haysham begin to act strangely. They are fearful for reasons they won't explain. When Lord Haysham is murdered, David Todd is the prime suspect. But Todd is acting maniacal, claiming great forces of evil are at work. An entire history of violence and depravity begins to emerge - interweaving the history of several local families with a secret occult society that engages in Black Masses. Has the Society emerged again?
Ohmygosh, ohmygosh, ohmygosh!!!

For those of you without a clue, Father Louis Gilbert is a character created for a Focus on the Family radio theater drama, performed by Adrian Plass from 2001 to 2006. The series had 9 episodes in 4 collections and ended very abruptly, IN A VERY BAD PLACE. I have literally spent the last 9 years listening to this radio series over and over again and always grinding my teeth at the ending of the final episode which should have NEVER been a final episode.

But now!!!!!

Oh, look, glorious miracle that is to come, BOOKS ARE BEING PUBLISHED!!!! Paul McCusker is writing a series of 3 novels for Father Gilbert, starting with the above The Body Under the Bridge. The release date is set for January 27th, 2016. WHAT AN AWESOME BIRTHDAY PRESENT!!!

I have already pre-bought my copy. And you have NO IDEA who much easier it is to wait a few paltry months for the book than to have waited nearly 10 years thinking there was no hope of continuing the story. Oh my life is now so much more complete!! Bless you, Paul McCusker!!!!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Classics Club (Book and Film): Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury (1962)

Something Wicked This Way Comes
by Ray Bradbury
1962
✯✯✯✯

So I'm finally back on track with my Classics Club reading, although I did considerably shorten the list to only 50 books. Since Ray Bradbury is one of my favorite authors, I figured I might just as well start (or rather re-start the list) with him.

With Bradbury you really never know what you're going to get. His mind worked in weird and wondrous ways that often included lyricism beyond belief and at least one metaphor, simile, or idiom per sentence. This makes his work either difficult to absorb or it absolutely enchants the reader. I'm fortunate in that I fall into the latter category, but I sincerely appreciate and sympathize with the readers that simply cannot get into Bradbury's work.

Something Wicked This Way Comes opens with a lightning rod salesman, heading into Green Town, Illinois to ply his trade. Along the road, he encounters two thirteen-year-old boys, Will Halloway (born a minute before midnight on October 30th) and Jim Nightshade (born a minute after midnight on Halloween). The salesman proclaims that a storm is coming and that one of the boy's homes is in grave danger . . . the home of Jim Nightshade. And instead of charging the boy, as he ordinarily would, the salesman gives away one of his lightning rods. He is a man who runs ahead of the storm and right now, he feels in his bones that a massive one is just around the corner.

Now, these two boys couldn't be more different from one another. Jim Nightshade is a dark-haired rebel who yearns for adventure and loves rule-breaking. He dreams of the day he will be a man in a man's world. But Will Halloway, blonde-haired and content, enjoys life just the way it is. He's the rule follower, the one who would never think of jumping off a cliff until Jim talks him into it. Two such very different thirteen-year-old boys and they are best friends. Which means they were guaranteed to make trouble for one another.

The night that Jim Nightshade reluctantly hangs the lightning rod on his house is October 24th. And it is the same night that a carnival train rolls into the sleepy little town. Will and Jim, neighbors as well as friends, poke their heads out their window and Jim is off like a shot. Throughout the day they've scented the popcorn and cotton candy of a carnival, head the distant sound of a calliope, seen a flyer announcing the arrival of Cooger and Dark's Pandemonium Shadow Show. All before it actually arrives. So now Jim can't be held back and when he hears that train approach, it doesn't matter that it's 3am on October 24th, he tears off into the darkness, Will screaming after him to not go alone. The two boys witness the unveiling of the carnival, in the dark at 3am, and nothing about the carnival looks normal, all dark and cold and terrifying to blot out the stars. How does it appear the following day? As a normal, bedraggled circus on its last legs, except that it leaves a queasy feeling in the pit of Will's stomach and a thrill of excitement down Jim's spine.

Such begins the terrifying little tale that is considered among some of Bradbury's finest work.

As I said earlier, it's impossible to predict what Ray Bradbury is going to give you in one of his novels. But readers do know one thing, that it will be a thrilling, ethereal ride to a world so like our own and yet . . . not. You are transported, perhaps even against your will, by Bradbury's perfectly honed prose to a world beyond imagining.

In the case of Something Wicked This Way Comes, the story works, and works well, at least 80% of the time. Unfortunately, the 20% lag comes at inopportune times where I very nearly yielded to temptation and skipped ahead just to get the plot going again. Anyone who knows Bradbury's style knows that he meanders. Something of a lesser scale George R. R. Martin if aficionados were to be perfectly honest, but at least Bradbury limits the amount of words that he puts on paper and so it is possible to wend your way through one of his books fairly quickly.

Yes, parts of Something Wicked were monotonous. Particularly when the boys are in hiding from Mr. Dark and it takes forever for something to actually happen. But when it does happen, when the plot moves itself along, it's quick as lightning.

While I didn't delve too deeply into the actual plot of this book, mostly for fear of giving away too much because that would be very easy to do, know that the theme is pure genius. What would you do if given the chance to live forever? And not just live forever, but actually choose the age you would appear to everyone else? It sounds like a dream, but as so often happens, when dream becomes reality, there's usually a twist and then it is no longer a dream, but a living nightmare. Such is the case of this story. Promises are made, but certain details left out, and before some of the characters know it, they are far different than they could have imagined.

What I appreciated most in this story was the relationship between Will Halloway and his aged father Charles Halloway who is the janitor for the local library. Charles married late so when Will is 13, his father is well into his mid-fifties. Communication suffers between them due to the age gap, a fact that both Will and Charles regret, and which this story mends. Charles Halloway stops feeling old and Will Halloway stops seeing him as old. The fracture in their relationship is healed.

Then you have Jim Nightshade. Ah, Jim, how to describe you? There isn't anything he won't try. And it irks him that he's still a boy when what he wants most is to be a man. He's predictable in his unpredictability. If there is something dangerous or ill-advised, he'll chase it, like the carnival train and like life itself, wanting something before it's his time to have it.

This book, like nothing else, will give the reader an appreciation for what they have right now, for where they are right now, instead of always looking off to the future and never thinking of the present (to paraphrase Yoda). There are still parts of it I don't understand, like the lady in the ice coffin who was so beautiful and then just disappears and seems to have added nothing to the story except a yearning for some inexplicable something for Charles Halloway. I'm sure Bradbury knew what he meant, but I'm not following his logic in some places, but I learned long ago that it was acceptable and even expected to never understand everything Bradbury wrote. Something Wicked This Way Comes, in spite of it's slow-movements when the reader wants to charge ahead, is brilliant and exciting and I literally never wanted to put it down when I picked it up. It's that good.

Parental Advisory: Violence in a very poetic way with psychological and disturbing images of fear. There are moments when Mr. Dark threatens Jim and Will, and there's another moment where a younger boy is threatened by a much older man (crucial and not as it seems). There's also a witch, supposedly, who's eyelids are sewn shut with black thread, quite scary as imagery goes. What disturbed me most is Jim's addiction to this one house that adults use as a place of debauchery. He climbs a tree and stares in the window at what he calls the stage, and whatever he's seeing isn't good for a boy of only thirteen, or for anyone really. Will saw it once, regrets it, and constantly urges Jim to not go back to that house. In other words, not a book for children, but not a dreadful book either, just psychologically scary, which is what readers should expect from Ray Bradbury.

Then you have the movie, from 1983.

I'm sure the director had good intentions. Bradbury, it appears, even wrote the screenplay, although why he would have is beyond me.

The film is atrocious, an absolute slander against Bradbury's original work that takes everything he did and upends it. Everyone who read the novel understood that the lightning rod salesman wasn't predicting an actual, physical storm. It was always a prediction of the carnival, always. Not the physical storm this film suddenly placed front and center. The lightning rod salesman's end isn't the same, neither is the school teacher's end, or even the end of Mr. Dark. I understand his end in the book was probably very disturbing, but his end in the film was even more grotesque.

I reached the point of fast-forwarding through bits that were absolute rubbish, which was most of it. There are moments when Bradbury's prose is used, but not nearly enough of them. Overall, it is an abomination of the original story and I'm ashamed it was ever made and that I ever deigned to watch it. Rumor has it that Disney is remaking the film, but they didn't do such a good job the first time around so I'm not holding out much hope for a successful remake.

It's a shame that back when Bradbury first came up with the notion that Gene Kelly wasn't able to sell it as a screenplay and do it himself. Gene was a huge supporter of the premise (it was simply a screenplay idea at this point, not a novel), and the two were such good friends, that it would have been a rousing success. Sadly, he couldn't find the funding. No one was daring enough to give it a go in the 1950s, so now readers have an incredible book and an absolute stinker of a film.

Ah well, books are longer lasting anyway and I anticipate that people will still be reading Something Wicked This Way Comes when the film has long since faded into anonymity. One can only hope.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Book Review: Ravenswolde by Charity Bishop (5 stars, 2015)

Ravenswolde
Charity Bishop
2015
✯✯✯✯✯

Purchase from Amazon. Purchase from CreateSpace. Purchase from Smashwords. Add on Goodreads.

Having read all of Charity's books, I'm comfortable in my expectations of her talent. Up until this point, my favorite of her stories was [book:The Secret in Belfast|19271147] which adds a new, dynamic twist to the building of and the sail of Titanic. Now, sadly (or maybe happily), my prior favorite has been usurped by Ravenswolde.

What you have here is the intriguing rendering of an assassin's school, placed in the Regency era. The heroine, Elspeth, is a young woman of strong faith who really, really doesn't like the idea of attending such an academy, but her her mother insists upon it, and so to Ravenswolde, Elspeth must go. Trusting anyone is a dangerous idea since all of the students have the ability and urge to regularly shove one another down the stairs or poison the drinking glasses of their peers. It's a deadly and terrifying place to live, made even more so by Lucian Graystoke, the son of Lady Graystoke who runs the school with an iron fist. While Elspeth spends half her time attempting to avoid meeting a gruesome end, the other half she spends desperately attempting to avoid Lucian. He at once draws her and repels her interest. A lone girl of faith with a strange connection to death, Elspeth can either lose herself at Ravenswolde or reanimate her faith in ways she never imagined possible.

Of all Charity's heroines, Elspeth is my favorite. Partially because I find her personal story and her magical gift fascinating, but also because I feel for her, being alone in a strange and scary environment, drawn to a man she knows is dangerous but can't avoid, all while trying to keep her faith strong and relevant. Elspeth is a delight heroine, which is good because Ravenswolde is in the 1st person. As for Lucian, he stands upon the edge of a knife, as Galadriel would say. At times, I hate him, and at other times, I pity him. He is complex, by far one of the most complex male leads crafted by the author, mostly because he is not good, but neither is he wholly evil. Like many of us, Lucian is lost in the in-between, two halves of himself fighting one another, and only Elspeth can help lead him back to the light.

What else can I say? I read Ravenswolde in 3 days flat, hardly wanting to put it down and resenting that I had to go to work. Charity's writing matures and deepens with every book she pens, and I consider this latest novel to be her finest hour, a literary triumph with a strong attention given to tireless editing and correction until the novel is flawless. I loved it and I hope you do as well.

Book Review: Miss Kopp's Midnight Confessions by Amy Stewart (Kopp Sisters #3, 2017)

Original Summary Deputy sheriff Constance Kopp is outraged to see young women brought into the Hackensack jail over dubious charges ...