Monday, December 28, 2020

Herding Cats

Herding Cats (Sarah's Scribbles, #3)Herding Cats by Sarah Andersen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

At the end of this very, very trying year, I needed something laugh-out-loud funny to cheer me up. This was not the year to read any Russian novels, at least not for me. These wacky and relatable comics were just what the psychologist ordered!

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Wednesday, December 9, 2020

No Holly for Miss Quinn

No Holly for Miss Quinn (Fairacre)No Holly for Miss Quinn by Miss Read
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It can be difficult to find a holiday read that isn't Hallmark Channel sentimentality in book form. Thankfully, Miss Read has several holiday-themed stories that deliver a festive and lighthearted yuletide. The book blurb promises, "Miss Quinn's unexpectedly hectic Christmas has a significant effect upon her life."

Miriam had long ago given up feeling guilty about her dislike of Christmas festivities, and latterly had taken pains to keep her own Christmases as quiet as possible. This year she was determined to spend it alone in her new abode, with no turkey, no pudding, no mince pies and—definitely—no holly. She might have a glass of the excellent punch that Barnabas usually gave her, with her customary light lunch, and she intended to read some Trollope, earmarked for the winter months. But too much food, too much noise and, above all, too much convivial company she would avoid. But would she be able to? (25%)

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Monday, September 14, 2020

Miss Kopp's Midnight Confessions (Kopp Sisters #3)

Miss Kopp's Midnight Confessions Miss Kopp's Midnight Confessions by Amy Stewart
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

OK. I'm saturated with Kopp Sisters for the time being. I'll have to take a break now that I've binged the first three novels. While this was still a great read, I can feel my interest waning slightly and these books and characters deserve better.

Constance's younger sister is infatuated with the theater and runs off with a traveling song-and-dance troupe. Or is it kidnapping? In 1916 New Jersey, "wayward" young women could get in a lot of trouble with the law and Constance knows only too well how naive young women can end up paying a heavy price when they flout the social conventions. 

It was not unusual for Sheriff Heath to be rousted out of bed in the middle of the night over a train accident, a country house robbery, or some other calamity. He rarely enjoyed anything like a full night’s sleep, and he carried eggplant-hued shadows under his eyes to prove it. (6%)

Constance was subjected to a barrage of letters from lonely men and enterprising employers. She’d had a marriage proposal from a doctor in Cuba, an offer of a job as a factory foreman in Chicago, and a set of keys to a jail in El Paso if only she’d consent to come out West and run it. Her sister Norma took great pride in answering those letters. She spent hours composing sharp-tongued retorts and reading them aloud. Under her pen, the rejection of impertinent propositions had been elevated to an art form. (6%)

Fleurette stood and tucked another ruffle into her skirt, raising the hem halfway to her knee. She wondered idly if it was possible to rig up some kind of cord that would raise the skirt when she left home and lower it again when she returned, like the canvas blinds in a shop window. (16%)

Friday, August 28, 2020

Lady Cop Makes Trouble (Kopp Sisters #2)

Lady Cop Makes Trouble  (Kopp Sisters #2)Lady Cop Makes Trouble by Amy Stewart
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My Kopp Sisters infatuation continues. What women! I usually take a break of several months between books in a series, but this one was just so much fun.

I thought about the day, when I was about ten years of age, when I copied down a list printed in the newspaper under the title “What a Woman Can Do.” I wrote down each item in a neat and careful hand, and then crossed most of them out after considered them. The Profession of Music was thus eliminated, as was Coloring Photographs and Women as Wood Engravers. Housekeeper was blotted out so thoroughly that the paper tore. Dressmaking met the same fate, as did Gardening. In fact, the paper was nearly in tatters under the force of my emphatic little hand. Only The Profession of Law remained, along with A Lady Government Official, Women of Journalism, and Nursing. Each of those wore faint checks beside them. I hid that list inside a white glove that needed mending and never showed it to anyone. On it were all the possibilities in the world. No one, back in 1887, had dared to suggest Woman Deputy. (5%)

Norma was theatrical in her own way, a master of props, equipped with an impressive vocabulary of snorts, grumbles, and hisses, and always ready to bang a pot or slam a book shut to get her point across. In any disagreement, she could be counted upon to have a pencil and paper at the ready and to write down whatever outlandish and overheated claim the other party might be making, so that it could be entered into evidence and read back at a later date when it might favor her side. (6%)

Although Mr. LaMotte and I had only known each other a short while, we sat together as comfortably as old friends. He was a short, bald man who wore a preposterous wig that was always slightly askew, and he carried an expression of endless bemusement. He spoke with a faint French accent that betrayed his European roots, but when I addressed him in French he insisted that we speak the language of New Yorkers. “Go to Paris if you want to hear French,” he would say airily, with a wave of his hand, as if that were a last resort that one shouldn’t even consider. (27%)

It was the dim, quiet hour just before dinner, when the older women were rousing themselves slowly from their naps. This was when I preferred to sit down with one or the other of them and try to win their confidence. The understanding that they were in jail—and therefore not obligated to cook dinner—dawned on them with a kind of muted relief. They were philosophical at that time and more willing to talk, unlike the younger girls, who preferred to come to me at midnight, when their fears and secrets kept them awake and aflame. The older women didn’t let their lies and treachery deprive them of sleep. They took their secrets to bed like hot-water bottles and snored on top of them all night long. (52%)

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy

How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention EconomyHow to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I liked some of the author's examples, but overall, this didn't grab me. One way I can tell is that I stopped highlighting the e-book at about 2/3 of the way through. That means I was skimming from that point on.

And that's too bad because this is a subject near to my heart. To her credit, she did work Bartleby, the Scrivener, into the discussion, which warrants at least a few choice passages, though the other one is a quote from a different work Odell referenced in her opening. 

"Repressive forces don’t stop people expressing themselves but rather force them to express themselves; what a relief to have nothing to say, the right to say nothing, because only then is there a chance of framing the rare, and ever rarer, thing that might be worth saying. —Gilles Deleuze, Negotiations" (7%)

"Herman Melville’s short story, “Bartleby, the Scrivener.” Bartleby, the clerk famous for repeating the phrase, “I would prefer not to,” uses a linguistic strategy to invalidate the requests of his boss. Not only does he not comply; he refuses the terms of the question itself." (35%)

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Girl Waits With Gun (Kopp Sisters #1)

Girl Waits With Gun (Kopp Sisters, #1)Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I wasn't sure what to expect from this detective novel, based on historical events. Constance Kopp became the first woman sheriff in early-20th century New Jersey. In the first novel of Amy Stewart's series, we learn how she was forced to protect her family from a wealthy bully. Quirky and engaging characters and an interesting and not-so-well known (for me) time period of American history kept me reading chapter after chapter when I intended to just read for a short time. I went a bit crazy with the highlights, since it was an e-book.

Being the tallest girl in the class, I was once dressed as Uncle Sam and placed in the center of the stage while forty-five girls, each portraying a different state, danced around me. Norma refused to choose a state. Wyoming was forced upon her. She wore a linen dress the color of sand and spread her arms wide to convey the vastness and futility of a place she could not imagine and did not wish to. (18%)

He shook his head. “There were all kinds of Bolsheviks living over there during the strikes. You used to be able to hear them arguing from a block away. The police could stand right out on the sidewalk and learn every one of their plans. But they’ve all moved on now.” (30%)

We looked forward to A Day at the Farm more than the children did because we never had to cook. Bessie always insisted that a picnic would be more fun in the countryside anyway, but we all knew the real reason: she didn’t want to eat our cooking any more than we did. The chief object of the day was to make it through Bessie’s wicker hampers: first the stuffed eggs and cucumber sandwiches, then the potato salad, the baked chicken, and aspic, and finally the glorious fruit tarts and peach preserves. This year they’d brought ice cream, and Fleurette made a ginger ale punch that the children drank from Mother’s gilded Sèvres teacups. We pulled every rug out of the house and spread them on the lawn, then piled on all the pillows and cushions we could find, and from that perch we dedicated ourselves to depleting Bessie’s hampers. Francis was in better spirits than we’d seen him in some time. He’d shaved his beard for the summer and it gave him an air of youthfulness and lightheartedness that was not entirely in keeping with his character. (88%)

And then what? Where the years ahead had once seemed vague and unknowable, amorphous in shape and indeterminate in size, after my mother died I began to see a set of decades stacked neatly in front of me like bricks. First came my thirties, already half gone, and beyond that my forties and my fifties, solid and certain. But after that, the bricks started to crumble. My grandmother died at the age of sixty-two, and my grandfather at seventy-one. Then my mother was gone, having succumbed to pneumonia after only just turning sixty herself. (89%)

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Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Frenchman's Creek

Frenchman's CreekFrenchman's Creek by Daphne du Maurier
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Head over to Austenprose for my review of Frenchman's Creek. This classic of romantic historical fiction has been adapted for the screen several times. It has all the elements necessary for a good, ripping yarn. I loved it as a teenager for its excitement and daring-do. A heroine who rebels against society's expectations? Excellent! On re-reading, I found it just as entertaining as I remembered and surprisingly adept at revealing characters' inner conflicts and the ways that they act them out. 

Saturday, July 4, 2020

The Two Towers

The Two Towers (The Lord of the Rings, #2)The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am the last person in my family to read The Lord of the Rings trilogy. As a matter of family honor, this needs to be rectified, at least according to my husband. 

With all that has been written about these novels and the film adaptations, I doubt there is any new ground to uncover in my brief reflections here. Having watched the Peter Jackson films several times, I especially enjoyed the passages that were not included in the screenplay. A few of my favorites:

[Eomer] "How shall a man judge what to do in such times?" [Aragorn] "As he ever has judged. Good and ill have not changed since yesteryear; nor are they one thing among Elves and Dwarves and another among Men. It is a man's part to discern them, as much in the Golden Wood as in his own house." (page 49)

They came to the pillar of the White Hand. The pillar was still standing, but the graven hand had been thrown down and broken into small pieces. Right in the middle of the road the long forefinger lay, white in the dusk, its red nail darkening to black. “The Ents pay attention to every detail!” said Gandalf. (page 246)

[Faramir] "War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all; but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend: the city of the Men of Numenor; and I would have her loved for her memory, her ancientry, her beauty, and her present wisdom." (page 355)

Thursday, May 28, 2020

The Chilbury Ladies' Choir

The Chilbury Ladies' ChoirThe Chilbury Ladies' Choir by Jennifer Ryan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I should have liked this more. All the elements are there: a cast of characters in a small English village, young people and older folks making do during wartime and dealing with adversity. "Keep Calm and Carry On." But I found reading it a slog. I skimmed the last half because it seemed so long getting going. Maybe it's in part due to my mood now. Or I've been reading too much historical fiction set in WWII England.

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Monday, May 25, 2020

The Jane Austen Society

The Jane Austen SocietyThe Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Head over to Austenprose for my review of Natalie Jenner's debut novel, The Jane Austen Society. For a comfort read in time of uncertainty, this one is up there with my favorite standbys: Miss Read (Dora Saint) and D.E. Stevenson.

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Monday, April 6, 2020

Miss Austen

Miss AustenMiss Austen by Gill Hornby
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Head over to Austenprose for my review of Gill Hornby's novel, Miss Austen. It focuses on on Cassandra, rather than her famous sister Jane, though Jane does feature prominently.

“She was the sun of my life, the gilder of every pleasure, the soother of every sorrow, I had not a thought concealed from her, and it is as if I had lost a part of myself.”

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Friday, February 21, 2020

Jane Austen, the Secret Radical

Jane Austen, the Secret RadicalJane Austen, the Secret Radical by Helena Kelly
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Head over to Austenprose for my review of Helena Kelly's examination of some of the radical subjects that Jane Austen explored in her novels. Like what? Oh, slavery, poverty, feminism, the Church, evolution. Just a few of the topics subjected to the Austen treatment, while her heroines search for eligible husbands. Women have always been multitaskers.

It’s impossible for anyone to write thousands upon thousands of words and reveal nothing of how she thinks or what she believes. And, contrary to popular opinion, Jane did reveal her beliefs, not just about domestic life and relationships, but about the wider political and social issues of the day. (10% Kindle)

Nowhere in her surviving letters is Jane openly critical of her father or of her brothers. But in both Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice she permits herself to write about the carelessness, and thoughtlessness, of men who do nothing to provide for their female dependents, and to touch on female financial anxiety and the psychological pressures of being beholden to more fortunate relations. (24% Kindle)

There’s no reason at all for the reviewer of Emma to start writing about “fanaticism” or religion. The final paragraph of the review has nothing to do with Emma, but the talk of “fanatical novels” and “fanatical authoresses” applies very much better to Jane’s previous book. The reviewer seems to want Jane to know that he has understood—and heartily disapproved of—what she was doing in Mansfield Park. (64% Kindle)

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Tuesday, January 28, 2020


CastleCastle by David Macaulay
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Not many books deserve to be called fascinating. This one does. Just enough text to accompany the superb illustrations. I wish I had known about this author when I was a child, but frankly, I may not have appreciated his work as much as I do now.

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