Talking Animals and Sad Humans and, like, Magic ~ Summer Reads Pt. 1

It’s been so long since I did mini-reviews of my recent reads (look at all that unintentional alliteration heh heh), in fact far too long to fit into all one post. This one shall therefore be the first of three, and shall focus on fantasy. And I shall not have any consistent format for each review, I shall just write stuff, according to ancient Sixty-Something Trees custom.

[I’m calling this “Summer Reads” because even though it goes through October…October was basically summer this year, let’s be real, it was like 85 degrees every day till the last week (what did I even leave the South for), and the trees didn’t all turn at once, and today when I left work it was snowing. So…fall? Fall? Who? Haven’t seen him.]

// Dragonwitch //

by Anne Elisabeth Stengl

My very informative summary:

In a sort of loose sequel to Starflower, Eanrin and Imraldera are unfortunately not the main characters but are at least major players. Some aristocrat kid has horrible dreams of how he’ll die. Some kid shows up from a distant land looking for…something. A forbidden romance blossoms between a scholar and a young noblewoman who just wants to be seen for who she is. Goblins invade the human world and I’m not sure what Etanun is doing, is he helping? or just making it worse?

I wouldn’t have read this book based on a summary of it, but it was actually pretty good.

I am here for:

-Eanrin. Eanrin the insufferable yet sometimes useful cat-poet-fairy-man is what I’m really here for. Especially Eanrin after the character development in the previous book but still being Eanrin and having his own…unique…foibles.

-Also Imraldera though. She’s the best and I love her library!

-Flipping the oppression system from the last book on its head! Smart and thematically meaty and yes.

-Alistair’s character arc

-The ending with Hri Sora and Etanun. That is just so sad. Part of it is awful-sad, part of it is beautiful-sad, all of it is SAD.

-THE ENDING WITH STARFLOWER AND HER SISTER. I was so happy. That was what I read the book in hope of, basically.

-Anne Elisabeth Stengle’s prose is, like, good?

Not so here for:

-The romance between the aforementioned scholar and young woman was b o r i n g. It was nice, I guess, but I was so bored. I think it’s because, although I liked the young noblewoman, I found the entire character of the scholar boring. And his growth/arc too obvious. Not badly written, just…something I’m tired of and that you have to write in a special way for me to be interested.

-I don’t know why, but Mouse got on my nerves.

-It wasn’t as good as Starflower. Which is the most ridiculous complaint ever, because how could you expect that? But I did expect that, my friends, and so I was (alas and alack) disappointed.

// Spindle //

by W. R. Gingell

This and the next four entries are a series (although each book can also stand alone, which is my favorite thing) of delightfully zany character-driven fantasy that I read within a very short span of time because it was honestly hard to stop. I love W. R. Gingell’s prose, I love her originality, and I LOVE her characters.

Love them. Cherish them. Adore them. Would die for them.

This one is a Sleeping Beauty retelling in the vein of Howl’s Moving Castle, wherein a motherly not-princess, the absent-minded wizard who halfway rescued her from a sleeping spell, the dog they rescue, a sardonic fellow named Melchior (who isn’t in it nearly enough), and Poly’s hair all team up to keep everyone safe from dastardly wizards, dastardly politicians, assassination attempts, and curses that stubbornly refuse to be broken. It’s so good, and I love Poly – she’s the motherly not-princess – and I love how she thinks. And I love how Gingell handles the complexities and nuances of different relationships. She writes people and their relationships with other people like real life, instead of like the simplified versions you normally find in fiction. I don’t know how to explain it better than that, but it is delightful.

And the banter is just…A+. It’s exactly what I want out of banter – a veritable flood of wit, just enough pettiness but not too much, and plenty of depth (whether in terms of character or plot) under the wordplay.

Gingell’s writing is so deft. She touches character development, worldbuilding, humor, emotional beats, and magic all so very lightly. But she writes in such a way that you find yourself listening for each of them – and treasuring them when they come, like the softer notes of a Beethoven piece.

That metaphor quite possibly made no sense. I just adore how she writes, is all.

// Blackfoot //

This one was my favorite one. Crazy, cuz it’s a sequel and stuff. Please read it so we can gush over it together, won’t you? Maybe it won’t hit you like it hit me (I…may have teared up at one point) (which, rude, LOTR took a lot of rereads to earn the ole misty-eyes routine, darn you Gandalf with your perfectly placed “I will not say: do not weep; for not all tears are an evil”) (and maybe Johnny Tremain made me tear up the first time through, but at least there’s the excuse that death was involved), but even so it’s a fun time of a story: with a magic castle, an unusual pencil, and at least two sketchy wizards serving as the background material for a story about a girl and her talking cat.

I too have a story about a man and his talking cat, so I really appreciated that detail on a personal level.

Anyway, Annabel is an absolutely incredible character. Gingell can write female characters and she can write child characters and she can do it brilliantly.

Her relationship with Blackfoot is my favorite thing of possibly ever.

Also, a character from the first book got so much more page time in this book, and I for one was so happy because I loved this character so much. And there was a thing about this character’s mouth (not as weird as it sounds – although yes these books are odd, but that part really isn’t) in both books and I liked it so much.

And have I mentioned how good Gingell is at flawed, loveable characters and their interactions?

And have I mentioned that I almost cried?

// Staff & Crown //

WE STAN ISABELLA FARRAH IN THIS HOUSEHOLD. The character who runs rings around her enemies and practices benevolent deception by telling the exact truth (“How marvellous a thing is the exact truth, properly manipulated!” as a certain unfortunately-fictional English gentleman once put it while en route to renew his proposals to a certain remarkable American lady) has always been one of my favorite types, and Isabella is just exquisite. Charming, devious, elegant, fashionable, and loyal. She’s even at a disadvantage, having very little magic in a world of magic-users, which means she has to be very resourceful, which is also wonderful.

It’s just FUN, full of politics and spying at boarding school, and the friendship between Isabella and Annabel (which is the main focus of the book, though there’s also a romance) is my favorite thing.

// Masque //

Isabella is the protagonist of this one, which makes up for the rough start and the slightly gruesome murders. It is a funny, exciting Beauty and the Beast retelling (I love how that was worked in, just as I loved the Sleeping Beauty element in Spindle – Gingell does it so cleverly yet organically) with a villain reveal to the murder mystery that gave me shivers even though I saw it coming. That particular type of thing will just…never not give me shivers. Oh man.

// Clockwork Magician //

It’s probably good if you don’t hate time travel. And if you didn’t find Peter too awful of a kid in Blackfoot that you can’t stomach him as a main character. There’s at least one thing that still doesn’t make sense to me about my favorite character (Melchior; my favorite character is Melchior; I realize I haven’t mentioned that), but I’m not even going to try to think about it. I hate time travel.

// By These Ten Bones //

by Clare B. Dunkle

My very informative summary:

A girl named Maddie, who lives in a remote Scottish village in like…medieval times, I think, makes friends with a mysterious woodcarver boy. Also she has to save her village from a werewolf.

I am here for:

-The characters. They are just…sweet and simple and real. Maddie, Paul, and the priest in particular I adored.

-The setting! I would like to know if it was historically accurate, but I certainly bought it. Misty and sunny by turns, the slow warmth of harvest days and the biting chill of autumn evenings – I’d live in their village. I also loved how content Maddie was in her home.

-Oh hey, YA with good, alive parents

-The theology of some stuff

-The curse and how awful it was and how it was broken. The climax was GOOD.

-How the prose was simple, but a good simple, and worked well for the story

-I don’t actually know what, but something about this book was so lovely to me. I gave it to my little sister and she’s currently in the middle of it and loving it.

Not so here for:

-I mean…it had a slow start?

-I would normally say the werewolf element, because I can’t stand werewolves (don’t ask why, I don’t know), but that was actually one of the things I loved about it, so.

// Starsight //

by Brandon Sanderson

Okay, so the first book, Skyward, was basically Star Wars: A New Hope, and I didn’t realize just how many parallels there were until I started thinking about it recently. I won’t go into them (spoilers and all), but it’s not just a generally similar vibe; there are specific plot similarities and there are even exact counterparts to C3PO and R2D2 and I am not kidding. Which was all fine by me! I love Star Wars, Sanderson is an excellent writer, and Spensa and her pals were great fun to hang out with.

Well, so in this sequel we’ve moved to the next ultra-famous sci-fi story. Where Skyward was Star Wars, Starsight is Ender’s Game.

Which certainly explains why I liked it a lot less.

Despite it being…still really good. And expanding the universe in dizzying ways. Sanderson truly is an EXCELLENT writer.

// Return of the Thief //

by Megan Whalen Turner

I loved it. I must reread the whole series now. Bless Phresine and her stories. Gen is my son, Pheris is my son, Eddis is my role model, my heart is broken, how does Megan Whalen Turner WRITE tho

“Nahuseresh tells me I am not king. We’ll see if he really prefers the Thief.”

“That is it, Sophos. You have hit upon my greatest fear. Someone who named himself Bunny is going to outshine me on the battlefield.”

“It is like being a sheepdog who turns suddenly on the sheep,” [Eugenides] said. “It feels utterly right in the moment, never afterward. That’s why I wouldn’t let someone else send me into battle. I never wanted to fight until I believed it was necessary.”

People are no less mysterious than the gods.

// Boys of Blur //

by N. D. Wilson

The Mother laughed. “You would kill an old woman while her sons are away?”

Charlie nodded. “Seems like the best time.”

You ever go to the library and say to yourself, “What I need right now is a good book about zombies and envy and sugarcane and fatherhood and Grendel’s mother (like from Beowulf) and small-town football and courage?”

Me either, but N. D. Wilson delivered anyway. I really love that guy’s writing.

As the sun set over the Gulf of Mexico, two half brothers, one half sister, one step-second cousin, three moms, one former foster mother, and two stepdads raised glasses of wine and water and milk and cran-apple juice and root beer to the memory of a man who had hurt most of them.

But even out of him, good had come.


Well, as of me finishing this post, fall has stopped in for a brief visit. We had a lovely chat, and he hopes to be able to stay longer next time. Stay warm, you guys, enjoy the final flourishes of fall (such a drama queen), and read

good books!!!!

“Animal Farm” as a Portrait of Boxer (also, Considerable Talk of Donkeys)

I have a confession to make, my dear friends: I am a donkey.

This may come as a shock to some of you. Others will have seen it coming these many moons. Regardless, I feel I owe you all an explanation.

Let me start with a question. Who is familiar with Animal Farm?

Most of us, I’d hazard a guess, are.  Have been since the cradle, or at least, like, high school. It’s an icon of Western culture, what! Some animals are more equal than others. Political fable. Animals overthrow their human oppressors, institute self-government, become a direct metaphor for Soviet Russia, and end up worse off than they started. The pigs may have begun with good intentions (who knows), but by the end they are walking on two legs –  no different than the humans.

All that I knew without having actually read the thing. And perhaps it made me rather reluctant to do so.

Others may differ, but I’m rarely much on overt allegory. I want to read a story, not a message. I knew George Orwell was a wonderful essayist (“Shooting an Elephant” was a highlight of things-you-have-to-read-because-high-school), but a good essayist does not (of necessity) a good novelist make.

Still, as they say, if you never try nothin’, you ain’t never gon’ find nothin’.

(I don’t know if anyone actually says that. But just said it in my best sassy Southern accent, so that makes it true.)

So all right, I thought, I will try George Orwell. 1984 sounds dreadful (sorry, 1984 fans), so I will try Animal Farm. 

So then I did.

And I liked it?

And also I am a donkey.

(Never fear. The donkey thing will soon be explained; but first I have to pontificate on why I liked it.)

George Orwell has an effortless writing style, akin to E. B. White’s in its wry simplicity and easy, unique turn of phrase (though, of course, it’s not as good as E. B. White’s, because what is?). It’s what makes his essays so readable. It’s also what made Animal Farm work.

Animal Farm is about (and from the perspective of) a passel of uneducated animals. They see the world as they see it – no frills, no pretension. They’re unhappily oppressed, but what are they going to do about it? No one has ever done anything about it.

Then the pigs (subtle, discerning, intelligent animals) come to them with a plan. With ideals. With the tantalizing dream of something better. Who could resist that? Who in his right mind would want to resist that?

Not the animals, certainly. They are hesitant at first, unsure exactly what they are offered, afraid of the cruel farmer. (Ideals are all well and good, but Mr. Jones has the power.) Gradually the dream takes hold. The seven commandments are painted on the barn wall, the last and most important of which is, All animals are equal.

Ideals lead, as true ideals always do, to action. To battle. The animals triumph; the humans are vanquished. Freedom is theirs.

The animals aren’t sure what to do with it. What does one do with freedom, when one has no experience of it, and one has still to eat?

Fortunately, the pigs have answers.

The pigs have gotten the animals this far. Without the pigs, they’d still be languishing under Mr. Jones’s tyranny. Who better than the pigs to entrust with the safekeeping of this freedom that, but for the pigs, they’d never have achieved?

Alas for the animals, generals do not always make good governors. Alas, power corrupts. Alas, professing pure-hearted interest in the welfare of all the animals alike does not always guarantee that the pigs’ hearts in question are quite so pure as their profession might lead one to believe.

It goes downhill from there, basically. As I expected.

What I didn’t expect was Boxer. One doesn’t expect to get emotionally attached to not-so-bright plough-horses, you know.

(By the way, the following section does contain spoilers. If you care.)

Boxer is one of the major forces behind the revolution. It might not have got off the ground at all if it wasn’t for him. He took to heart the vision of Old Major, he hung on the pigs’ words with cart-horse humility and doglike devotion, he memorized the seven commandments, he inspired the others continually with his unfaltering devotion to the cause. He was one of the bravest in battle. When the new freedom was achieved, he worked harder than anyone else. When disaster struck and they had to start again from the beginning, he worked still harder – not for himself, because his days were running out, but for the coming generations, for the others.

And when his body gave out and he was no more use to the regime, and would have done nothing but lie in the barn eating hay in the well-deserved rest of his old age, the pigs sent him to the knacker’s.

(You don’t want to know how near I came to tears over a fictional cart-horse.)

Not all the animals knew what was going on when the van came up to the farm to take Boxer away. But Benjamin the donkey did. Benjamin the donkey had known what was going on the whole time. He was smart. [This is true, by the way, that donkeys are smart. They’re literal escape artists, let me tell you.] He kept his eyes open and his mouth shut. He didn’t say much before the revolution and he didn’t say much after. But when he realized the kind of reward the pigs were offering Boxer for a lifetime of humble and devoted service, he – well, in modern parlance, he flipped.

He tried frantically to rescue his friend, and when that didn’t work and he was still a little frantic, he stirred up the animals. Mostly by calling them fools. Because that, after all, is what he had thought them the whole time. Even Boxer, probably, slaving devotedly for the animals who sent him off to the knacker’s the moment his usefulness ended.

Benjamin is a grand cynic. He never believed in the false paradise. Until his friend was taken, he never did anything about it, and he never did anything about it afterward either. The pigs came and explained to the animals that it wasn’t the knacker’s van at all, that Boxer had gone to a good place to die in peace and well-deserved comfort. Benjamin had settled by then and did not object to this. He went on keeping his eyes open and his mouth shut – except with Clover, the horse who shared his grief. She was not clever like Benjamin, but she knew what had happened, as he did. She was perhaps luckier, because it only made her sad, where it made Benjamin bitter.

If the animals hadn’t been foolish, perhaps the atrocities of Animal Farm would never have come to pass. But Benjamin was clever enough, and he did nothing to stop them. He was clever enough to know he hadn’t a chance.

And Benjamin, you see, is me. I’m a fairly intelligent person. I’m not blind to bad things happening in the world, and I’m not naive enough to believe everyone’s professions of good faith. In fact, I’m cynic enough to believe pretty much nobody’s professions of good faith. But do I do anything about it? No. Do I say anything about it? No. Because I know that nothing I do, and nothing I say, will change anything. I’m completely powerless, and I know it. And sometimes it makes me very, very bitter.

What was the proper thing for Benjamin to have done? I don’t know. Perhaps there was nothing he could have done. But I wonder. There are a lot of us like Benjamin, I think. A lot like Clover, but a lot like Benjamin. Can we really do nothing? And if so, is that really an excuse to do nothing?

I feel like those are important questions to ask yourself. (But what do I know, I’m just a donkey.)

…This has been Sad and Vaguely Political Thoughts With Sarah. If you’re thinking it has to do with current politics, you’re kind of right but only insofar as it also has to do with politics like…two years ago? I dunno. I wrote this post before COVID was even dreamed of, and then it just sat in my drafts for forever and a day. And then today I posted it because who says you have to make good decisions when you’re an adult? Actually I have been musing in this vein recently too, so it just seemed like a good time to empty out that drafts folder.

I hope y’all are having as beautifully rainy an October day as I am. ✌️

An Ode to October Sailing

I went sailing with my dad this weekend: probably the last voyage of the year. We always try to get some October sailing in, and we usually manage. I don’t know why October sailing has the particular significance it does to us; I’m sure partly it’s just that the wind tends to be strong and the weather (if you catch it on a good day) so heavenly. But also, when my dad grew up sailing with his dad, they never went October sailing. So, at first, neither did Dad and I. But one October day, when Dad remarked aloud what an exciting sail you’d have with wind like this, I said, well, why don’t we?

So we did. And it was the best adventure we’d ever had. (I’m not lying.)

It is a little hard to convey the change wrought by this event. Suddenly something wonderful was twice as big as we’d thought it was. We could have twice as much of it. When summer ended, and the heat lingered, and some leaves turned yellow and fell while others stayed green and began to just be crisped at the edges with scarlet, and the hayfield grasses turned white and purple-red and amber, and birds started to fly over every day, and the pelican birds came to the lake, and it got cold as winter after dark, and you could feel winter coming everywhere yet in every corner harvest and warmth and the golden richness of leftover sunshine burrowed in as if to stay…then, when you might have thought it was time to put away boats and days at the lake and your hair blowing into tangles (which is ever the symptom of adventures), you did not have to after all. You could stay out. Even while you felt the storm coming in, even while the wind was fickle and wild and the water (little wave-crests breaking white, pushed by the wind’s fury) icy, you could sail.

We wore jackets because October is not the time for T-shirts. The winds were strong, so our jeans were wet through with frigid lake-water before five minutes had passed on the water. Our hands cramped from trying to hold the rudder steady against the pressure; we leaned out to balance her when, gaining speed, the boat began to tilt, and waves smacked us in the face. And from the way we were laughing you’d have thought someone had just given us the best news in the world.

Someone had, really. Someone had told us that October is not the time for sailing – but that we could steal it anyway. Someone had given us a whole month.

October sailing isn’t like summer sailing. It has its own edge.

So, my dad and I went sailing this weekend. Summer hadn’t really broken yet. I wasn’t off work till the evening, but it must have still been 80 degrees by the time the boat was in the water. We put her in at the point at the end of the road: a good place for views, as three great arms of the lake open out for you, and the island sits in one, with gulls congregating just off its first sandy spit. All the shorelines in view are lined with trees, some coming down (green, round, close ranks of oak) to meet the water, some standing (dark, clustered, hooded cedar) on top of limestone cliffs.

The sun was hanging very low above the trees on the western shore. The water had a purple brilliance to it, and it was dark and crowded with wind-ripples.

I, like the good sailor I am, dropped the clevice pin.

There are multiple clevice pins on a sailboat; this was the one that connects the main sheet’s block-and-tackle (by which you control the mainsail) to the mainsail. It’s at the back of the boat, and what happens is, sometimes, if you had them disconnected beforehand, you hook them up wrong and the block-and-tackle gets all twisted up. Which is bad, because you want it to be running free and easy when you’re sailing, so that if you let the sail out it goes out and if you pull it in tight it comes in tight.

If, however, you don’t notice the problem till you’re in the water, then you have to unhook it and re-hook it on the water. I don’t know who came up with clevice pins, but if he was a sailor he didn’t think it through. They’re finicky little things; you have to fit the pin into the threads just right, while holding the two things you’re trying to connect in perfect proximity. So you’re holding four things – two are tiny, one is the sail which keeps catching the wind and bucking free of your aching fingers – and you only have two hands, and gosh darn it that hurt when the wind ripped the sail away from you last time, and naturally you drop the pin. Into the lake. Plink. Never more to be seen.

This is bad, understand. The sheet must be connected to the sail or you have no control over the sail. Sailing is made up of two equally important activities: steering and controlling the sail.

“It’s fine,” said Dad—“here—” He looped the end of the sheet through a little bracket on the boom, tugged the sail down tight, and handed it back to me.

We got along merrily after that, me straining every muscle to keep the sail in tight – it always eventually slipped, and after it had slipped a few times and I’d been unable to make up any lost ground at all, Dad took it and controlled it while I just focused on the rudder.

Now, on a catamaran you have two rudders just like you have two pontoons – two fin-shaped sorts of things that tip down into the water. They’re connected by an aluminum bar, and if you want the boat to turn, you turn them by pushing or pulling the bar. (It’s opposite, of course. Pull port if you want to head starboard; push starboard if you want to head port.)

On most catamarans, you control this bar (which controls the actual rudders in the water – I am suddenly questioning if “rudders” is the technical term for those or not; it sounds so weird in the plural) by means of an arm affixed to the center of it. It gives you leverage and maneuverability and stuff.

Mon Ile (that’s our girl’s name 😉) does not have such an arm. Never has, in my memory. (Sailing is a rich man’s sport, no doubt about it, but poor people have their ways.) It would be especially nice because something is wrong with the rudders and they don’t go down all the way. The angle they sit at in the water creates significantly more drag than it’s supposed to, meaning it requires significantly more force from the guiding hand on the rudder to keep the boat on course. Especially when the wind’s high.

I did barely manage to hold us back into the cove when we sailed in, probably because Dad was taking care of the sail – and it was exhilarating to push back against the wind; to feel the sail stiffen further, the mast snap around (it’s supposed to rotate, but of course it always gets stuck), the lee side of the boat drive deeper into the water, till the spray was fountaining over the lee trampoline and my hand was cramping and slipping on the rudder and my feet were braced and I was stretched out, holding her on course, and the wind was a loud cold symphony in our faces as the sun was gone suddenly and in the water cauldrons of fire died swiftly to inkpots of shadow – and we were October sailing.

It was a peculiar thing, I thought. Maybe because the water was cold, even though the air wasn’t. It was genuine October sailing, and I know because you don’t make mistakes about that. You know if it’s October sailing.

It was. And so I am content with this year’s sailing. If you had some October sailing, you always are.

The Radiation-from-a-distant-nuclear-furnace Person-who-posts-things-on-the-Internet-that-are-too-long-for-tweets Thing-you-give-people-when-they-do-a-good-job

Hi guys! I am feeling bright and bushy-tailed today (what does that saying actually mean) and so I return to you with a tag, bestowed upon me by Irene of Horseback to Byzantium. She’s a cool person (I think) with a cool blog (I know), and she even asks cool questions! Thank you, Irene, for tagging me for the Sunshine Blogger Award!

A note to anyone who has tagged me for anything in the past: I am dreadfully sorry, but I went and deleted all my old drafts. They were killing me Smalls. It’s not that I didn’t want to fill out the tags – some of them I was really looking forward to – but they’d piled up and some were really old and I just wanted to get back to blogging semi-regularly without the crushing burden of all those tags I need to catch up on slowing me down. Honestly at this point you probably don’t even remember tagging me, so you don’t even care, but I felt I ought to make the announcement anyway.

On to the questions, then!

// Scotland or Italy?

So…this question should be easy, right? It should be easy because duh, Scotland, but unfortunately it isn’t easy because I have a story set in Venice and another set in Genoa, and you guys??? The research opportunities??? Imagine getting to go to Venice and see the Ospedale della Pietá, which I think is still there, though reduced in size from Baroque days. To see the environment, the city. Canals, gondolas, the Doge’s palace, everything. You know how interesting Italian history is? In Vivaldi’s day, there was no Italy. It was the declining days of the Venetian Republic, I believe. (I should really learn more Italian history.)

And Genoa. I’m sure modern Genoa doesn’t exactly resemble medieval Genoa, but to go there and see it. And go out in a ship! And Venice is Vivaldi’s city, but Genoa is Christopher Columbus’s and as an American…yeah. The research, you guys, the history!

But…as interesting as Italian history is, Scottish history is more interesting. And Scotland is beautiful; or so I hear from my aunt, who’s been there three times. She’s never been anywhere else three times, besides Arkansas. I want to go. There’s a place on our road, where just as you come up over the hill you can look across someone’s field and you see a house (someone else’s house) and then hills rising up from it in multiple directions – and the lie of the land, my aunt says, reminds her of Scotland. It’s a beautiful view, you see.

Besides, the Caledonians are very, very old mountains, and I love mountains. The older the better. It’s an island. The land is all bound about by water, lochs that are really the ocean. I really like Scottish accents. Robert Louis Stevenson didn’t write any books about Italy. Scotland’s history is brave and tragic – and in a way, looking at even older history, there is just a little Italy in Scotland, but no Scotland in Italy.

I’m sorry, Italy.

// Silent movies or ’90s rom-coms?


I’ve never actually seen a silent movie besides part of a Robin Hood. But the only ’90s rom-coms I think I’ve seen are Kate and Leopold (it could’ve been worse, sure, but no thanks) and Return to Me (watched very recently because somebody told me there was Dean Martin and then I saw a copy of it the next day). Actually Return to Me was pretty good, so maybe ’90’s rom-coms. At least if all ’90’s rom-coms have those four old guys in them. I need to show that movie to my sister, actually; she’d love the old guys.

// Tennyson or Shelley?

I haven’t read enough Shelley to be really fair about this, but he hasn’t impressed me.

Whereas Tennyson – I love Tennyson dearly. For “Crossing the Bar” alone, but he wrote a ton of good stuff.

// Ambrosia salad or plain old marshmallows?

Finally, an easy one!

Marshmallows are gross.

Ambrosia salad, though we have it but once a year at Christmas, is delicious.

Also, it’s green. Green is a good color for food.

// Cello or piano?

Well, I play the piano, so I’m kind of biased.

The cello can be beautiful, don’t get me wrong, and I do love my own stringed instrument (the violin) better than the piano, but the piano’s such a versatile, all-purpose instrument. (Yet it’s much prettier than a guitar. You can accompany people on a piano, and accompanying people is the delight of this musician’s heart, anyway.

Like, imagine my sister playing her trumpet to Coventry Carol and me accompanying on a cello. No. You need the piano, so you can play all those soft, clanging dissonances that bring out the poignancy of the song. (Is it a coincidence, I ask you, that when Frances played it in Above Suspicion, for her Nazi audience to make a point, she did it on a piano? not a cello?)

Plus, I grew up listening to those twin composers, Chop-in and Show-pan, played by my mother on the piano. There may be great composers for the cello, but nothing that I will ever remember with so much pleasure as the music of Show-pan filling the house. (And that Chop-in fellow was pretty great too.)

// Activities with friends or just sitting and talking?

I like activities that leave plenty of time for talking. Such as hiking, kayaking, sailing, or going to rodeos and such. One time a friend and I were at a barrel racing event, and we perched on the rail and watched the horses and had the longest, best conversation about WWI flyboys and the War in the Pacific (WW2) and Japanese culture and Frisbees. You don’t feel you have to talk, but you can if you want to, and you’re doing something enjoyable in and of itself. And you’re not just…sitting…all the time.

I was first a high school, then a college, student, my friends. I get tired of sitting.

// Cold weather or hot weather?

Dear me. Cold weather, I suppose. Sweaters and clean air and crinkly-insides-of-noses and snow. And the grass in the hayfield bright brittle white and amber. And snuggling under covers and baked goods and hot tea and fires.

But please don’t really make me choose. I love the Midwest, where we’ve got both in abundance and don’t have to give up our lazy, molten, impossibly still summer days for the cold ones.

// Writing poetry or writing stories?


Writing…stories, I guess? I think? Poetry is an on-and-off thing, a more fickle Muse. And stories mean more to me, on average, though there are a few poems I love an impossible amount, and that’s sort of how it is with my writing of them too. I love poetry, but I live and breathe stories.

How…very dramatic that sounds. But I think I have a compulsion to write stories, whereas it’s only a very great proclivity to write poems. And I love stories a bit better. (And you can always cheat and stick poems in your stories. No one calls Tolkien a poet.)

// Texting or talking on the phone

Ha. Haha. Texting, please.

I want to talk to you face to face, but I hate just hearing a voice. Especially when the service is bad and you’re always having to repeat what you said or only catching jumbled bits of what they said or talking over each other. It’s always awkward.

So texting, please, but Skyping over both.

// Snakes or slugs?

Definitely, definitely slugs. Have you ever met a slug that could kill you? Or that would bite you? Or that attacked your mom and she had to chop its head off with a shovel? Or that rattled?

My coworker’s daughter has new snakes appearing in her house every day. It is a whole saga. There are pictures. It’s terrifying.

Once a black snake got caught in the netting around the garden and died and when I went back not very much later thinking I’d cut him out, he was…mostly evaporated.

Once I was fishing with my dad in a river. I was standing in the river, and suddenly I looked down to see a red-and-yellow snake circling my ankles. There was screaming, scrambling, fishing pole tossed many meters from its original location, and unfortunately I rather cut up my knees on the rocks.

Would any of that have been even a tenth as bad if it was a slug rather than a snake? I think not.

Besides, I like slugs, actually. Always have. Snails are such funny little things, and slugs are just naked snails. You gotta be nice to the poor little things. No squishing allowed.

// Cheerios or corn flakes?

Well…I’ve never had corn flakes. But I don’t like Cheerios. I do like Wheaties (wheat flakes, right?) and Raisin Bran (are those corn flakes?), so I think I’d probably like corn flakes better. But who knows, really. Cereal can surprise a fellow, don’t you know!

Okay, that was fun! Thank you again to Irene for tagging me! Part of why I don’t like tagging people is that I want to see everybody’s answers, so here are my questions and please steal them or answer them in the comments if you are so inclined.

  1. Favorite mountain range?
  2. Favorite Italian city?
  3. Favorite musical instrument?
  4. Favorite underappreciated animal?
  5. Would you rather fly a Sopwith Camel in WWI or a Blenheim in WW2?
  6. Have you ever made a fool of yourself because an animal scared you? Do spill the tea.
  7. Mosquitoes or chiggers?
  8. Hemlock or arsenic?
  9. How often do you ask yourself morbid questions like “what sort of poison would I prefer to die from?”?
  10. Japanese or Chinese history?
  11. What are your thoughts on the morality of Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

That did not get heavy at all.

Jane Austen Novels, Ranked

So, a while back I wrote a post ranking Disney Princess movies. (I’d link to it but I’m writing this on my phone and it’s more trouble than it’s worth.) It was kind of just a random idea I had, but it was a lot of fun for me. It was especially fun for me to see y’all’s rankings (and general opinions) as well.

So the other day I thought, why not rank Jane Austen novels? That would be fun. I have some fairly unusual opinions. I’m curious what my readers’ opinions would be. Let’s do this.

So…let’s do this.


I think if you’re a Jane Austen snob, you say, “Pride and Prejudice is okay, but Jane Austen’s real masterpiece is Persuasion.”

I hope I’m not a Jane Austen snob, but I do think Persuasion is a masterpiece. It’s quiet and autumnal and ordinary, which is why it’s so good, I think. It feels like real life, and then it rings a joyous peal over you of second chances and redemption and forgiveness for foolish choices made and the slow blossoming of love born of deep mutual respect and affection and not, against expectation and probability, dead, even after eight years. Of all Austen’s stories, it strikes the deepest chord with me.

The characters, as usual, are impeccably drawn. I don’t know that Anne is my favorite of Austen’s heroines, but I also don’t know that she isn’t. She’s one of those characters, when I first read the book, I was surprised to learn that somebody actually wrote characters like that. I knew plenty of people like her – in some ways I was very like her myself – but I thought authors just never wrote about people like her. Gentle, dutiful, good – yet also overlooked and taken advantage of, even sometimes by the people who loved her, because they had a forceful personality and her best interests at heart but were a little bit stupid. It makes me mad sometimes, actually, how often people are stupid and can’t get it through their heads that this person you love is DIFFERENT than you. And you might be trying so hard to make her life better, but actually you’re making it worse, because she’s so gentle and conscientious that she’ll give in to you and blight her own future and you’re so STUPID you’ll never even realize what you’re guilty of. Because you’re STUPID.

I don’t know if it was obvious, but Lady Russell frustrates me. She’s painfully true to life. And she’s a good person who really loves Anne, which is what makes it so frustrating!

Anyway, Anne is lovely. Her character growth is lovely. Same for Captain Wentworth. Their story is beautiful.

And Captain Harville is an absolute dear.


Henry Tilney is my favorite Austen hero, so. He is witty and yet not careless of other people’s feelings. And he appreciates Catherine, who is such a darling.

Austen’s wit is, in general, on full display here. Her portraits of the Thorpes are absolutely merciless. I love the Gothic novel parody going on, and how Catherine is basically fiction’s first fangirl and lets her imagination get away from her with such regularity.

It’s just…a good time. And very smart. And has Henry Tilney in it.


Definitely one of the most actually romantic and romance-focused that Austen wrote, possibly because it was the first one she published? What makes this one for me is the characters. And also nostalgia, I suppose, since it was the first Jane Austen book I read. I was nine and quite enamored.

Which, in its turn, is quite possibly because of Elinor. As I said, I was nine. My reading this far had, I guess, led me to believe that fiction was entirely populated by hot-tempered heroines who were always saying things they shouldn’t and letting their feelings run away with them and getting into scrapes.

Which was all fine and good. I liked heroines like that. (Still do.) But what an odd sensation, to realize that people actually write books sometimes about characters who are like me! Who never lose their tempers or say what they think if it has the smallest chance of offending someone (and hence often become the confidante of both sides) or let their feelings run away with them. Who never, in fact, show their feelings. And who are reproached for it by the people who do, and who are assumed to not HAVE feelings because we don’t show them and…I didn’t know, when I reread this recently, if I’d still find Elinor so impossibly relatable, because maybe it was just the first time I’d read a quiet, calm, capable heroine and that was why I latched onto her so strongly…but no. HIGHLY RELATABLE. (I am much more blunt now than I was as a child and will say what I think to people if they ask – but they don’t usually, you know – and am not nearly as socially adept as Elinor. But still highly relatable.)

And so well-drawn? It’s all so accurate. How does Jane Austen capture people (like Elinor and Marianne and Mrs Dashwood) so very accurately?

I suppose that’s rather a personal reason for liking this one so much, but I really like Elinor, not just relate to her, and it was so awesome to me that she was the main heroine rather than Marianne, who, according to my experience, should without a doubt have been the heroine. And I love Marianne too, especially as more of a secondary character whose flaws aren’t excused but who is still a lovely girl, and I’m exceedingly fond of Colonel Brandon.

And Edward’s a pretty nice chap as well.


It may come fourth in the list, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love it. Pride and Prejudice is rightfully iconic. Lizzie is a delight, Jane is a dear, the Bennet parents are a hoot, Darcy is a fascinating character study, and I wouldn’t object to marrying Bingley. And there’s lots of drama.

Wickham is one of my favorite Austen villains, too. So slimy and despicable. I wish he came to a worse end, honestly. I hope that’s not dreadfully vindictive of me, but what a…well, I kind of promised myself once I wouldn’t ever refer to any human being as trash because it bothers me so much when other people do it and I think it’s wrong? I won’t make an exception, but I did think about making one for Wickham. Just ugh.


I haven’t read this one since I was little, but I definitely liked it! It reminds me of Persuasion with how real and ordinary it all is, and I like that. I find Harriet insipid, and Emma sometimes gets on my nerves a trifle though I’m fond of her, but Mr Knightley is a solid human being and We Approve.

Yeah…I like Mr Knightley, that’s most of my feelings on this one.

Oh, and Frank Churchill. I don’t know if I like him or not – I don’t think he’s an out-and-out villain – but he adds a spice to life, for sure.

The Eltons are delightfully awful.

Mainly this isn’t my favorite just because Emma gets on my nerves sometimes, which puts it lower than Pride and Prejudice whose heroine I am deeply fond of, and then I don’t have the same personal connection to it (or to Pride and Prejudice) that I do to Sense and Sensibility. Then it’s probably as funny as Pride and Prejudice, but not quite as witty, and even Pride and Prejudice falls short of the sparkling, clear-eyed brilliance of Northanger Abbey. And then none of them, of course, have quite the SOUL-STIRRING BEAUTY of Persuasion.

So hopefully that explained the ranking order a bit.


Also haven’t read this one since I was little, which means perhaps I’m not being fair to it, but it’s going last because I don’t actually like it.

Fanny is a lovely character (Jane Austen writes strong women and, again, We Approve), but Edmund DOES NOT deserve her. Mary Crawford is annoying and it annoys me excessively that there’s some dramatic reason Edmund comes to realize she’s no good. It feels like an authorly cop-out, actually, in my opinion. I wanted Edmund to GROW to realize that she’s not the right one, but instead circumstances have to write it in letters of fire in front of his face that she isn’t, because nothing short of that is going to convince him, apparently.

Which, fine. Maybe men are that oblivious when infatuated. (They…totally are, actually, a lot of the time.) I still don’t like it. It feels unfair to Fanny that her goodness can only ever be perceived by contrast with someone else’s badness.

Fanny just…deserved better all around. And that’s how I feel about it.


I thought this would be fun to do real quick, too.

Fair warning that I’m not a big fan of period dramas and definitely have some unpopular opinions here, lol.

Starting with WORST, we have the Kate Beckinsale version of Emma. I actually only watched the beginning and couldn’t stand it – weirdly gloomy, stiff and wooden, weird music? They were going for something but I’m not sure what. My mom and sisters watched the whole thing and said it didn’t get any better. So that’ll be a no from me, thanks.

In NEXT WORST place we have that 1995 Persuasion movie. I thought it might be good at first, but then it was just…slow and did that period-drama thing where people stare at each other a lot. And also stare out windows a lot. Sometimes at the rain, to signify Bleak Sadness and Despairing Uncertainty As To What The Future Holds But It’s Probably Boring. Sometimes just…out the window. Also the proposal scene at the end was horrifically awkward. No thank you.

Coming in at THIRD WORST is the 1995 BBC Pride and Prejudice miniseries. Yes yes, don’t kill me. I liked it fine the first time I saw it (it was mildly cool to kind of see the book play out on screen word for word?), but my mom and I rewatched it recently and just…it’s so long. And boring. And did people really talk like that? Really? Like, with super proper diction but also always sounding like they’re out of breath because…conveying emotion through your voice is hard in a Regency piece, I guess? And why is EVERY SINGLE CONVERSATION punctuated by awkward silences? And why do people do so much STARING? GET ON WITH THE MOVIE, WOULD YOU? *cough* so…that one’ll also be a no from me. (But Jennifer Ehle was lovely, that I will say. Very charming, very Lizzie.)

Coming in next at FOURTH WORST, or maybe THIRD BEST, I’m not sure, is the 2005 Pride and Prejudice with Keira Knightley. That’s right, I like it better than the long one. *ducks half-heartedly to avoid the rotten vegetables and occasional metal projectile* This one was actually fine the first TWO times I watched it. Keira Knightley does a nice, modern Lizzie, who’s not very Regency but who is at least feisty in a way modern people pick up on. It’s a pretty movie, if not a historically accurate one. It moves along at a good pace, has nice music, keeps the gist of a bunch of good lines from the book, doesn’t involve TOO much staring (but still plenty of rain), and gives Mrs Bennet depth. Which is awesome. But also Mr Bennet is no good, and it loses charm on rewatches, and the ending is truly painful to watch.

Getting to the end now, in SECOND BEST place I present to you the Emma Thompson version of Sense and Sensibility. I remember that it was good. Rather serious and dramatic, like the book, but I Felt Things when Elinor reached her breaking point and was like…well, I forget the line, but basically, “YES, Marianne, I DO have feelings! And it HASN’T BEEN EASY. And you haven’t helped!” Elinor and Marianne were superbly acted, although I totally forget Colonel Brandon, which is sad but possibly more my memory’s fault than the character’s memorability. Not sure what I’d think if I rewatched it (might be a little long and sad), but I quite enjoyed it the first time.

And finally, for BEST OF ALL, I give you…the 2009 Emma miniseries!!!! I’ve watched this three times and enjoyed it immensely every time. It’s bright and funny. Romola Garai’s facial expressions are truly inimitable. The costuming and set is gorgeous, Mr Knightley is the Knightleyest, Frank Churchill the Churchillyest, Mr Elton is suitably horrid (and his wife SO vulgar) and it’s just a good time.

Okay! That’s all that! I hope it was mildly interesting! And I do hope you will tell me how you’d rank Jane Austen’s novels! (Movie opinions welcome too but PLEASE don’t kill me about my P&P opinions, I’m sorryyyy XD)

A List of Reasons Why The Two Towers Is Splendiferous

Howdy, folks, ’tis I, returned from my latest unannounced hiatus, which shouldn’t really be called a hiatus because hiatuses are when you take a break and if you don’t say to yourself “I’m gonna take a break from blogging,” then it doesn’t really feel like a break. It just feels like you went an entire month and a half without posting, shame on you. But I guess it was sort of a break because I’ve barely thought about the Internet in a month and a half because…work. And friends. And summer. I like summer very much.

Anyway, hello, I hope y’all’s summer is going well, I totally missed two of the blog events I wanted to participate in, but I’m back now to bring you a completely random post about the middle of The Lord of the Rings.

I’m currently rereading that particular book, which is one of my favorite books, and do notice I said books, not trilogies. That’s my stand on this issue. 😛

I mean, I always have thought of it as one book, since the days when I first cracked open the library copy of Fellowship (with the other two volumes lined up on my desk), knowing nothing more than that it was one of my aunt’s favorite books and a sequel to that really cool book I’d read last Christmas, The Hobbit. And when personal inclination lines up with the stated intent and desire of the author…well. Why Not, Jeeves, is all I have to say, Why Bally Not.

Nonetheless, though it be but one book, it do be divided into three volumes, and I do have a favorite volume. That would be The Two Towers. Which is an unimportant fact, really, but I mention it as justification for this post, which is going to be a helter-skelter, gushy, incomplete ramble about things that I love that occur specifically in The Two Towers. Which is mainly just because doing it for the whole story would take too long.

And I guess I also mention it because a number of people seem to like The Two Towers the least, and while they are of course welcome to their opinions, it seems odd to me because I don’t think Towers suffers from middle-of-the-story slump at all. In fact, while picking a favorite volume should be hard because each one has things in it that I love to death (and Fellowship and Return of the King both have the Shire in them, I mean come on), it actually isn’t because Two Towers has SO MANY of my very favorite things in it.

So hey. I’m just gonna talk about them. Show the neglected middle child some love. (Spoilers, I need hardly say, abound.)


Reason numero uno I love this volume: Faramir is so awesome.

I know how awesome he is, but every time I actually get to him in the book the awesomeness is not diluted by knowing it beforehand and, in fact, it’s almost like I’m surprised. Even though I’m not.

Because that’s how awesome Faramir is, you see.

I just read his chapters recently*, and I’m thinking I actually kind of see what the movies were going for when they changed his character. I’ve never agreed with the choice, but I’ve always held that the movies didn’t completely ruin Faramir or the integrity of his character. I still disagree with the choice (book Faramir is way more awesome than movie Faramir, so obviously it wasn’t a good choice), but I really do think I see what they were going for, even in terms of book accuracy.

See, I tend to focus on Faramir’s gentleness. How he does not love the bright sword for its sharpness nor the arrow for its swiftness but only that which they defend. How he has no jealousy for Aragorn. His quietness, his kindness, the way he speaks to Éowyn.

But…it’s not Return of the King where the roots of my love for him lie. It’s in that chapter, “The Window on the West.” Faramir is indeed gentle, kind, and quiet. But he’s also a warrior. His country is at war, his brother has died, and he sees no possible chance of victory. So he’s very serious. And he’s also very stern. “Kind” isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when I read his conversation with Frodo in Ithilien, questioning Frodo, plainly not believing him.

Gentleness is not synonymous with weakness, and I don’t think it is. Mercy is not synonymous with foolishness, and I don’t think it is. But Faramir is an example that it really, really isn’t.

Faramir questioning Frodo, and doubting Frodo, and pressing Frodo further, is not Southern hospitality at its finest. The way he deals with Frodo when Gollum has come fishing in the pool, and with Gollum through Frodo, is also not Southern hospitality at its finest. It’s shrewd and, frankly, a little ruthless. He basically forces Frodo to confide in him by acting as if he’s going to have Gollum shot (and maybe actually being about to do it, I’m not sure – what I am sure of, though, is that he knows very well what kind of person Frodo is and that he’s not going to let him shoot Gollum, and he trades on that).

When I think of mercy, I think of something a little softer. A little more “there, there, dear” and hesitant. A little more…well…nice.

But Faramir is very merciful. It’s perhaps his defining characteristic.

And I love that. I love the contradiction, in which there is no contradiction. Mercy isn’t soft – it can actually be rather hard – and Faramir isn’t soft either. But he still shows his quality, which is the very highest. And when he and Frodo exchange courtesies in one of my favorite lines, you know he MEANS it.

Frodo bowed low. “I am answered,” he said, “and I place myself at your service, if that is of any worth to one so high and honorable.”

“It is of great worth,” said Faramir.

-J. R. R. Tolkien, The Two Towers

*I had just read his chapters recently when I originally typed this, that is. Now I’m almost done with Return of the King, because pretty much all I’ve been doing with my spare time lately is inhaling Lord of the Rings. It’s been great, if you were wondering.


It took me a bit to appreciate Boromir. I didn’t not like him the first time, but I like him so much now, where I used to overlook him a bit.

A well-done fall arc is one of the rarest things in the world. But also one of the coolest, because FEELINGS. So naturally I’m very fond of Boromir’s character in general. But I’m even fonder of it because of the epilogue.

First of all, he literally gives his life trying to protect Merry and Pippin. And second, he tells Aragorn everything. He’s so sorry. And so Aragorn says to him:

“No!” said Aragorn, taking his hand and kissing his brow. “You have conquered. Few have gained such a victory. Be at peace. Minas Tirith shall not fall!”

-J. R. R. Tolkien, The Two Towers

Which is just so gracious.

I greatly appreciate how much time the narrative spends mourning him, too. Three whole songs and an entire chapter named after him. Not to mention Faramir’s vision way later on. Like, thank you, Tolkien. Thank you for being perfect.


They turned and walked side by side slowly along the line of the river. Behind them the light grew in the east. As they walked they compared notes, talking lightly in hobbit-fashion of the things that had happened since their capture. No listener would have guessed from their words that they had suffered cruelly, and been in dire peril, going without hope towards torment and death; or that even now, as they knew well, they had little chance of ever finding friend or safety again.

-J. R. R. Tolkien, The Two Towers

I get weirdly emotional about that paragraph, which is probably because it follows a rather intense chapter and oh the relief now that Merry and Pippin are walking along tiredly through the woods, being their precious hobbit selves and not in imminent danger from Saruman or Sauron or the cruelty of Orcs or the hooves of battle horses or stray arrows.

But seriously. I love the way Pippin and Merry work together when they’re not even supposed to talk to each other and no one could blame them if they just sort of gave up on life. But of course they don’t. (That deeply buried tough streak in hobbits. Gotta love.)

Pippin is always thinking how useless he is, but he’s NOT. He’s tenacious, won’t let go of his hobbitish hopes even when grim circumstances make them seem absurd, and he is VERY, VERY clever. He gets his hands untied and keeps the Orcs from knowing it, he tricks Grishnákh…and Merry plays along with him and they’re both so LITTLE and BRAVE and I love their friendship so much.

Team Frodo & Sam is rightfully iconic, but The Two Towers highlights Team Pippin & Merry as well, which is so much more than just a mischief-making partnership.

I mean. Just LOOK at them. Escaped from deadly danger and an unthinkable future in Orthanc, teasing each other, lightly commending each other’s contributions, and enjoying each other’s company like two old gaffers taking an evening walk in a quiet country park. There’s something so dear and admirable about it. I love my precious hobbits. ❤


Éomer is one of my favorite characters; I love him nearly as much as his sister. This line is actually from Return of the King, but it’s one of my favorites:

“As for myself,” said Éomer, “I have little knowledge of these deep matters; but I need it not. This I know, and it is enough, that as my friend Aragorn succoured me and my people, so I will aid him when he calls. I will go.”

-J. R. R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

And that’s how Éomer is.

Straightforward, just a simple guy who rides horses and swings swords, all this fancy elvish stuff is beyond him, but he loves his king and his country, protects his sister, cherishes beauty and hates evil, and stands by his friends.

He’s just smashing.

I’m also everlastingly fond of the bit where he first meets Aragron, Legolas, and Gimli. Everyone’s highly suspicious of each other, even though they’re all the good guys actually, and it’s a tense conversation and at the end, though still a little doubtful, Éomer makes a wise and generous decision and just. Y’all. He’s great. The complete opposite of Faramir in a lot of ways, but equally good.

(Also the part where Treebeard and Merry and Pippin are kind of skeptical of each other at first, there’s no immediate relief where Merry and Pippin know they’re safe now the moment they meet him. Even though there is a very good feeling beginning to steal in. And where Gimli, Legolas, and Aragorn think Gandalf is Saruman. The good-guys-are-initially-skeptical-of-each-other trope is kind of the best.)


On a similar note to Éomer, the Rohirrim in general are the BEST. I love their culture and everything – and how the Gondorians really respect them even though you’d think they’d look down on them because they’re uneducated or not Númenórean or whatever.

They’re warlike enough, so they’re not completely similar to the hobbits, but they give me a bit of the same vibe. They have their own unique, tight-knit culture, and they just want to be left in peace to live their lives and take care of their families and train their horses, but nope, nobody will leave them alone. Well, okay, maybe they’re ignorant, but they’re not stupid and they’re not cowards, and they’re not planning on knuckling under to evil wizards, and they have a resilience and a strength and a capacity for courageous deeds beyond what anyone might reasonably have expected. The evil creatures that attacked them didn’t know what they were getting themselves into. There’s that, kind of down-home resilience, that they share with the hobbits.

(But also, they’re just super cool.)


I distinctly remember, my first time reading The Lord of the Rings, the moment I became a hopeless fan and there was no turning back. It was the chapter “Flotsam and Jetsam.” Where Gimli, Legolas, and Aragorn, after having pursued Merry and Pippin across the country, been mildly hopeful of their escape, got rid of a traitor in Meduseld, ridden to war, seen astonishing marvels, and won against all odds a desperate victory, get to sit down in the victorious ruin of Isengard and chit-chat with the hobbits who have given them such trouble. It’s just…….perfection?!??!!?

I mean. There’s the poetic profundity of “The Departure of Boromir.” There’s the ancient-epic-ish feeling of the meeting of the Three Hunters and Éomer. There’s the folkloric amazingness of the hobbits’ partnership with the Ents. Which is all grand and beautiful and I love it but THEN. Then, there is the reprieve, the comfort, the break, the hanging-out-mostly-quiet-with-your-friends-around-the-bonfire-at-the-end-of-a-long-day peace, of this reunion.

And Tolkien gives it to you. He doesn’t hurry through it, or mention it in passing, or cut it short so we can get to the more important, high-stakes matters. No. We want this. We have spent over a hundred pages wanting this, wanting to enjoy the reunion, the catching-each-other-up, the jokes, the camaraderie. And we get it.

And…I am happy. The dynamic of the Three Hunters is lovely, and that of Team Pippin & Merry is iconic, and together they are perfect and I would read about them for multiple chapters.


As truly great as the Battle of the Pelennor Fields is, I think Helm’s Deep is my favorite.

(I’m a fan of how Tolkien writes battles in general. They’re…not boring. And not only are they not boring, they make sense and are some of the most emotionally intense parts of the book. Which you would think battles naturally would be, but for some reason, to me, as a general rule they’re not.)

Helm’s Deep is just the first battle of the war, but it’s super important because if it had been lost Pelennor Fields wouldn’t have been won, and then there would have been no chance to march on the Morannon, and then Frodo and Sam wouldn’t have succeeded either. (I love how even though the Fellowship gets split apart their separate adventures continue to be related in really, really important ways. It’s so cool.)

And, plus, there’s this hopeful surge where the King of Rohan has recovered and is finally going to lead his people in battle again, and then it’s very grim but they keep holding off the Orcs and disasters happen but they still stave off defeat and then comes dawn and the White Rider with it, and there’s a sortie and the Trees are there and the eucatastrophic beauty of it takes one’s breath away.


The third volume is where Merry REALLY gets to shine, but he has his moments here too. Like when he greets Theoden and the Riders and doesn’t speak to his companions until Gimli explodes and promises to tell Theoden about the history of pipeweed someday at Theoden’s hall. (Which last is doubly poignant once you’re rereading and know that promise is never fulfilled.) Merry is this delightful, lowkey mixture of maturity, courtesy, and sly mischief, and I love him.

“I will come with you,” said Theoden. “Farewell, my hobbits! May we meet again in my house! There you shall sit beside me and tell me all that your hearts desire: the deeds of your grandsires, as far as you can reckon them; and we will speak also of Tobold the Old and his herb-lore. Farewell!”

The hobbits bowed low. “So that is the King of Rohan!” said Pippin in an undertone. “A fine old fellow. Very polite.”

-J. R. R. Tolkien, The Two Towers


I suppose the very beginning of the legendary Legolas-Gimli friendship lies in Lothlorien, but it’s this book where you start to pick up on it and just…be amused and endeared. There’s the Helm’s Deep body count competition, there’s Gimli trying to get the beauty of the Caves of Aglarond through Legolas’s somewhere-off-in-the-treetops brain, and there’s also Gimli trying to stop Legolas from checking out the Huorns because hey, this Elf is crazy and he’s gonna get himself killed and he’s also gonna get ME killed, HEY LEGOLAS WHAT ARE YOU DOING LET ME GET OFF THE HORSE.

And just. Yeah. I don’t have much to say. I just love their friendship and wanted to mention it.


Of all the reasons The Two Towers is my favorite, the Ents are I think the biggest. If they were the only reason, they might still be enough. You can’t overstate my love for the Ents. (…Am I weird? Does anyone else feel this way? I never hear people rave over the Ents. But I LOVE THEM.)

Middle-earth is alive. It’s not just the people, it’s the trees and the mountains. And if you have any particular love for forests or mountains, you probably understand the appeal of this. For the trees to walk and talk, to meet the shepherd of their shepherds, ancienter than even the hills he strides over with his rooty toes, is so…how can I express this?

My mom asked why I like Treebeard so much, and I tried to explain thusly: “He’s gentle and wise and slow and kind and unhasty and unbelievably ancient and none of that is actually why.” He’s so HIMSELF. He’s a shepherd of the trees, he’s Fangorn. He just…is.

He’s all the beauty, benevolence, stillness, age, neutrality, and danger of the woods. And now the woods have been tamed, in Tolkien’s England and in my Missouri, and there’s nothing of the wild left. And so Treebeard is, more even than the Elves, the remnant of a time doomed to fade and be forgotten. The story of the Entwives is…it’s sad, y’all.

“I remember it was long ago – in the time of the war between Sauron and the Men of the Sea – desire came over me to see Fimbrethil again. Very fair she was still in my eyes, when I had last seen her, though little like the Entmaiden of old. For the Entwives were bent and browned by their labour; their hair parched by the sun to the hue of ripe corn and their cheeks like red apples. Yet their eyes were still the eyes of our own people. We crossed over Anduin and came to their land; but we found a desert: it was all burned and uprooted, for war had passed over it. But the Entwives were not there. Long we called, and long we searched; and we asked all folk that we met which way the Entwives had gone. Some said they had never seen them; and some said that they had seen them walking away west, and some said east, and others south. But nowhere that we went could we find them. Our sorrow was very great. Yet the wild wood called, and we returned to it. For many years we used to go out every now and again and look for the Entwives, walking far and wide and calling them by their beautiful names. But as time passed we went more seldom and wandered less far. And now the Entwives are only a memory for us, and our beards are long and grey.”

-J. R. R. Tolkien, The Two Towers

And that brings this lengthy post to a close. If you finished it (or if you didn’t), tell me! What’s your favorite volume of Lord of the Rings? Is it one book or three? Do you love the Ents? Did the movies ruin Faramir? Are hobbits the best???? (You’d better say yes to that one.) and, hey. *waves awkwardly* Maybe I’m actually back for real this time.

Angst in April, Murder in May // (in book form of course)

Hey, kids! It’s June, it’s summer (in the Northern Hemisphere), and I’m back!

I’m sure you were all very worried, to the point of sending out search parties and inquiring where the checks for funeral contributions could be sent, but I am not, in fact, dead or even missing, and if you had no fear of either and are in fact surprised to hear it’s been over a month since I last posted…mate, same.

It’s good to be back, though, catch up on some of y’all’s lovely posts (at least reading, maybe not commenting – query: why does commenting take so much mental energy?), and talk about the books that I read this past April and May!

// Orbiting Jupiter // Gary D. Schmidt

So…I have really complicated thoughts on this one.

Actually, really, they’re not complicated. They’re just confused. Really, really confused.

For starters, probably not good timing on my part reading this? There was a thing that made me sad, and if I had read it at some time in the past or some time in the future it maybe wouldn’t have made me so sad, but as it was I finished it, set it down, stared at the sunset out my window, and screamed (mentally), “WHAT WAS THE POINT?!”

(Please don’t explain about theme & symbolism &c. I got that. I just don’t care. I don’t normally feel this way, but, like, you know what love and self-sacrifice and all those noble things don’t fix? THE FACT THAT – well, spoilers. But I’m still angry about this.)

However, to actually talk about the book and not just my unreasonable feelings thereupon, it was…I don’t know. It didn’t enrapture me like Okay for Now and The Wednesday Wars (or even Pay Attention, Carter Jones). There wasn’t that same delightful narrative voice. There wasn’t that same level of realness – real characters, real settings, real problems with real humans struggling through them.

I mean, I guess the problems were pretty real – child abuse, prejudice, loneliness, being a father when you are 100% Not Ready. But the way the book approached them just wasn’t the same??

Books about Issues do this a lot, I think. The problem takes the spotlight. All character moments are either intensely sad or heartwarming – there’s no in-between space for that reminder of the regular part of life. Laughing. Kidding around. Being scared of stupid things. Just doing stupid stuff because you’re a kid and you’re discovering life in all its sweet, mundane unimportance. Leave out that stuff and you leave out the real flavor of the thing – and hence the possibility for the heartbreak you seem so anxious to induce. I can’t break my heart over something that isn’t quite solid to my touch.

What I’m trying to say is, Orbiting Jupiter is a very sweet and sad story about a thirteen-year-old who’s experienced things no thirteen-year-old should, his quest to find his baby daughter Jupiter, and foster siblings to, as an excellent sponge once put it, melt your heart. Except that I personally found it rather dry. And then the ending made me mad. So.

But then I’m confused, because I talked about it with the lovely lady who told me to read it, and although she felt just as betrayed by the ending as I did (imagine staying up late to finish it one night when your husband and kids aren’t home and getting to THAT at ONE IN THE MORNING and then the book being OVER), and while explaining what she loved so much about it, she said something along the lines of, “I’m not saying what they did was right. I mean, it wasn’t right. It was wrong. But before, I would have scoffed. I would have thought, ‘You’re thirteen. What do you know about love? You don’t know anything about love.’ But they did know. They got it. Better than so many of us, who are adults, and think we know.”

Sadly that is not her actual words, which were better, but what I remember of the gist of what she said. Which…kind of made me appreciate the book a lot more. So.

I’m still mad and I’d still recommend Okay for Now instead.

// On Stories // C. S. Lewis

Some critics seem to confuse growth with the cost of growth and also to wish to make that cost far higher than, in nature, it need be.

-from “On Three Ways of Writing for Children,” Lewis talking about why you don’t need to “grow out of” things like fairy tales and optimism and happy endings

He does not despise real woods because he has read of enchanted woods: the reading makes all real woods a little enchanted.

-also from “On Three Ways of Writing for Children”; beautiful, isn’t it? talking about why adults needn’t worry unduly that reading fantasy will make kids discontented with their ordinary mortal lot

“But why,” (some ask) “why, if you have a serious comment to make on the real life of men, must you do it by talking about a phantasmagoric never-never land of your own?” Because, I take it, one of the main things the author wants to say is that the real life of men is of that mythical and heroic quality.

-from Lewis’s review of The Lord of the Rings, the entirety of which is fabulous

Those are, alas, the only quotes I wrote down, but also included is a tribute to Dorothy Sayers, written soon after her death, through which her personality, and Lewis’s respect and affection, shine. And an essay about criticizing what you don’t like and why you really mostly shouldn’t, about which Sam wrote a whole glorious post that you should read. And the titular essay, which is interesting and well-expressed and YES, that is the indefinable element I look for in certain stories, beyond even deep character or beautiful writing, and YES, there is another type of reader who just…doesn’t and we will never quite understand each other. And so, so much more! Call now to get 30% off your first –

Just read it.

// Detection Unlimited // Georgette Heyer

Not since The Murder of Roger Ackroyd have I been so utterly BETRAYED by a mystery writer.

(This is even worse, really, because Georgette Heyer’s characters are better than Agatha Christie’s.)

Have you ever noticed, and wondered about, the way the murder victim in murder mysteries is almost always a thoroughly nasty person that nobody is really sad to see dead?

I’ve wondered this a lot. There are some possible reasons, like that this gives more people motives, which is nice for the mystery writer trying to bamboozle readers, and that it’s probably just realistic for nasty people to get murdered more often than nice people, but I have come up with a theory that I like better. I think the reason is so that the story can’t get bogged down in grief. Because grief is going to be focused on the dead person, but what the mystery writer actually wants to focus on is the person who did the killing.

Since nobody’s overwhelming grief over the little “pocket Hitler” who died in this book was clouding the atmosphere, you had no particular rancor toward his murderer – though, of course, one really shouldn’t go around murdering people – and so there was nothing in the way of your regarding the murderer as a person rather than a monster.

And because I happened to get attached to the murderer, I really thought about what it means for a person to be a murderer. And it was really sad.

For the murderer.

Like. I’m not explaining this well. But Father Brown showed me that a murder mystery can be a really cool vehicle for exploring a question of morality, and this was similar to that except…different.


You know how it’s pretty easy for us to be heartbroken over human suffering? But not so easy to be heartbroken over human sin? (When we say we’re heartbroken over sin, we actually mostly mean we’re heartbroken over the suffering caused by sin. Which is still the first type of heartbreak.) We tend to get angry over sin a lot more than heartbroken.

And it’s not wrong to be angry about sin. But also, it’s right to be heartbroken. Like God is.

And that’s what this book made me think – how sad, to be a sinner. How sad, to commit a sin. Quite apart from the consequences of it, you know? How very sad, how horrifying, to take another human life, not just because it was taken, but because you were the one who reached out and took it.

It’s like something Chesterton would make you think, except it was Georgette Heyer.

(So kudos to Georgette Heyer.)

As to the actual story, it was quite good. Clever. A man was shot in a small English country village, in his garden, at a time of day when a number of people who didn’t like him could conceivably have been out and about shooting people. There are altogether too many suspects, and the weapon is altogether too common: a .22 rifle.

Personalities clash, young people fall in love, the village’s oldest inhabitant is a nuisance, the murdered man’s niece is unbearably (suspiciously?) saintly, and Gavin Plenmeller, the town’s resident myster writer, goes around being nastily sarcastic to everyone and overjoyed to find himself a suspect in a real mystery case.

Meanwhile Inspectors Hemingway and Harbottle have got to narrow down their suspects somehow. Which sha’n’t be a problem, because Hemingway (as he will not scruple to remind you) has flair.

// A Matter of Days // Hugh Ross

Not much to say about this one except that it’s about creation, including why the author considers the “days” of creation long periods of time rather than regular 24-hour days (and why the beginning of Genesis shouldn’t be regarded as the only Scriptural passage that talks authoritatively about creation) and the evidence, both scientific and Biblical, for this point of view.

And just, wow astronomy is cool. Creation is cool. It’s…so cool. I can’t.

// Duplicate Death// Georgette Heyer

‘Tis Chief Inspector Hemingway again, this time investigating a scandalous high-society London strangling with the help of Inspector Grant, an excellent detective save for his annoying Highland habit of spouting Gaelic at his superior. There is blackmail, there is drugs, there is Terrible Timothy all grown up, what a surprise!

Terrible Timothy, if you don’t know, is from a much earlier Heyer mystery, They Found Him Dead, which used to be my favorite one, not because of the mystery itself which frankly wasn’t good at all, but because…well, because of Alicia and Jim mostly, and Rosemary being entertainingly awful. And also Terrible Timothy, a fourteen-year-old with a conniving mind and a fascination with American gangster films (this was written in the 1920s by the way) who wanted very much to help the poor harassed Sergeant Hemingway solve the murder. So it was pretty fun to see him again.

Also he’s now fallen in love with a girl named Beulah, the surprisingly awesome possessor of a whole lot of spunk and sourness, not to mention a mysterious past and current status of Prime Suspect.

I enjoyed this book, but I would’ve enjoyed it even more if it had just been Timothy and Beulah arguing about whether he should marry her since he doesn’t know anything about her (his opinion being that he totally definitely should).

// Message from Málaga // Helen MacInnes

I adore Helen MacInnes so much.

She’s such a good writer????

Like, you should have seen me devouring this book. I don’t devour books any more. I’m a busy adult with a fractured attention span (it depresses me every time I think about it) who usually only reads at night and who needs her sleep because she has much stuff that needs doing. And who nevertheless spent her entire day (while she wasn’t at work) reading this.

Because I was so worried, you guys. I was so worried.

So do you need a Cold War spy thriller set in Andalusia with Cuban defectors, KGB agents, secret assassination societies, and flamenco dancers in your life? Do you need Tavita, who is melodramatic and ridiculously intelligent and helps Communist defectors for her brother’s sake, because remember Spain had a civil war and it wasn’t pretty? Do you need a sweet, rational, disillusioned American college student who’s decided to go do something worthwhile (and highly dangerous) with her life? Do you need a soft-spoken police captain trying to get a handle on all this spy chicanery going on in his jurisdiction? Do you need a pretty average main character who’s selfish and judgmental but at least he’s also intelligent and skeptical, and ooh, hey, look, he actually admitted he was selfish, and oh, look, he’s capable of appreciating others and being compassionate and okay, he’s not actually that bad by the end?

Do you need a plot that involves ancient secret passages between houses in Granada and double agents and cyanide spray-guns and will give you a heart attack from prolonged stress over are these characters gonna make it? are they gonna be okay?


You do! You know you do!

Helen MacInnes has this…way of capturing the people of a particular place, their culture, their prejudice, their flavor. I wouldn’t know if it’s true, since I’ve never been to Andalusia, or Greece, or Brittany, but it feels so true. It feels so respectful because it feels so appreciative. Like she loves these people, like they’re her friends and she thinks their culture beautiful and their history important.

So I really like that. I think it’s the final touch that makes her books not just fun spy thrillers for me, but also really good books.

Wow, there was a real dearth of fantasy and classics these last two months. Which I often think are my most-read genres?? I guess breaks are good, though. And I’ve been craving murder mysteries. Do y’all ever just…really really want to read a good murder mystery and nothing else, for like no reason whatsoever? What good (and not-so-good) books have you been reading this spring?

Tennis Balls, Sentient Books, and Bean Pots // Bookish Adventures of Winter 2021

Happy Easter, my friends! He is risen!

Also it’s spring and books got read this winter and I am going to talk about them. I’m actually going to steal The Temperamental Writer’s mini-reviewing format, because it’s cool and I feel like it. Prosecute me if you wish, blogosphere police: I defy you.

Henry V

William Shakespeare

My very informative summary: Henry is the King of England, but technically should also be the King of France. Only the French Dauphin isn’t taking him seriously, which makes Henry very angry indeed, how dare someone not give him the throne of a whole entire country when he asks for it, just because he was a little indiscreet and headstrong in his younger days –

So he invades France, runs around in disguise (for fun, I guess?), wins the day at Agincourt, and marries a very odd French lady.


  • The St. Crispin’s Day speech, naturally
  • The Dauphin sending Henry…tennis balls??? It was funny. I like the Dauphin. (This is the problem with getting invested in medieval history, though, as I discovered in fourth grade and shall not soon forget. Your favorites always lose or die or somehow or other get the short end of the stick.)
  • The reverse Haman trope (or whatever it’s called; that’s just my unofficial name for it) – where you ask the traitors what we should do to traitors, and then do that to them.


  • There were a lot of boring parts.
  • Like, a lot.
  • When I was a kid it always made total sense to me when kings would go undercover to find stuff out and stir up trouble and hand down somewhat arbitrary attempts at justice, but now I’m just like….why, though. Why are you doing this? Is there a point? It wasn’t as egregious as Agamemnon telling all the Greeks that Zeus had told him they were destined to fail and causing a huge panic when Zeus had actually told him they were destined to succeed gloriously….but still. Kings lying to their soldiers for no reason makes no sense to me.
  • All the aggression makes no sense to me, either. Chill, Henry. Who cares if your mother something something descended from someone someone something something makes you the rightful King of France? You have England, ya know. Why so greedy, pray? I love the St. Crispin’s Day speech, but I’d love it more if, like, y’all weren’t the aggressors here. rip my modern sensibilities I guess

The Saga of the Volsungs

Anonymous; translated by Jesse L. Byock

My very informative summary: Soap opera meets Viking myth in this Norse…prose…story…thing…where no one ever marries the right person. Or if they do, their happiness is short-lived. Sometimes there are actual reasons for this, sometimes it is “oops, I drank a magic potion that made me forget my true love” or “but that’s what the birds told me.” Revenge is more important than anything else. Everybody dies, usually painfully.


  • Gudrun. She is a really cool character. She is smart and courageous and practical, and she’s imperfect and causes some of her own problems, but at the same time she’s kind of dealt a rotten hand in life and does her best with it (except for killing her children; that was Too Far, of course), and she’s one of the only characters I actually feel bad for, because everyone else so got what was coming to them (except Sigurd, kind of), and she’s very tragic and I like her.


  • Moms killing their kids. So many moms killing their kids…
  • Kind-of-incest??? Ew???
  • Seriously, what is with Nordic mythology and sewing people?
  • There’s not much of a morality structure. Basically, breaking an oath is pretty bad, but you know what’s really bad? NOT BEING ABLE TO HANDLE PAIN.

Pay Attention, Carter Jones

Gary D. Schmidt

My very informative summary: A British butler enters the life of Carter and his mom and his little sisters, while his dad’s deployed in Germany. He teaches Carter to play cricket and drive a car named the Eggplant. It’s a Gary D. Schmidt book, so we are sad.


  • The Blue Mountains of Australia (even though I wish I wasn’t here for them because gosh you didn’t warn me what HAPPENED in the Blue Mountains of Australia)
  • Sibling content. Maybe not as perfect as in Okay for Now, but hey, what is? Look at Carter being a good big brother! I’m so proud of him!
  • Teaching kids to drive way before they’re old enough to get a permit. This is how I was brought up and I stand by the method. (The mom having a death grip on her seat the whole time is so real, too. She will still have the same death grip when Carter is twenty and driving her places.)
  • Adults looking out for kids when other adults, who should’ve been looking out for them, did a lousy job of it
  • That hint I think I interpreted correctly, about the fate of a certain character from Okay for Now. I am happy.


  • Mr. Mary Poppins. If I’d known I was getting into a book with Mr. Mary Poppins in it, it would’ve been different, I think. But as it was, I expected something more along the lines of Okay for Now and The Wednesday Wars with plausibility, and Mr. Mary Poppins threw me off.
  • It was a mildly interesting element, but in the end I just don’t care about cricket. I’m sorry. I may like British history and British classics, but I fear I’m pure uncultured American at bottom.
  • I like Carter’s narrative voice, but it sometimes didn’t feel modern enough, almost? I’d often slip into thinking the book was set earlier than it was.

Knights of the Air

Ezra Bowen

My very informative summary: A year-by-year history of the air war, focusing on the aces, in WWI. Lots of awesome photographs.


  • All the photographs. Spend a good while looking over all these guys’ faces if you want to be horribly depressed for three days because almost all of them died. And most of them were really, really young when they did.
  • All the biplanes
  • The description of the Red Baron’s funeral. That was cool.
  • Lanoe Hawker. I loved that boy, and…and… *cries*
  • Guynemer is my SON (turns out it feels weirder to say this about actual historical people than fictional characters…)
  • Nungesser (I think it was Nungesser…maybe Navarre) getting out of his plane, driving at high speeds all the way to Paris to party till it was time to drive back and take off on another run. It amused me. Even though, at the same time, kids. Try not to kill yourselves. You literally have to be helped into your cockpit, you have so many injuries.


  • More my fault than the book’s, but my WWI chronology is so rusty (I say as if it was ever that good to start with), and sometimes it would mention this or that event as if it was supposed to convey something to me, and I’m like…I got nothing.
  • Why wasn’t it an in-depth biography of every single one of them, with all their letters and diaries reprinted, and detailed schematics of all the planes and guns they flew and shot, though?
  • I have few complaints to make. It taught me stuff. It broke my heart. What more can you ask of a book?

Sorcery of Thorns

Margaret Rogerson

My very informative summary: Sixteen-year-old orphan Elizabeth is always getting into trouble, but her accident with a Malefict (damaged magical book turned raging monster) is more than just trouble. She must leave her beloved library and travel to the great capitol city, guarded by an altogether-too-perceptive sorcerer and his unnerving servant. But this Malefict is just one pawn in a great plan that Elizabeth soon finds herself caught up in…a plan that, if it succeeds, will doom the whole human world.

So, naturally, Elizabeth has to stop it. Good thing she has a sword and no conception of what “give up” means.


  • Elizabeth being a holy terror and also a naive child and just, like…an interesting person in general who’s quiet and unconventional and tall (tall girl rep for the win) and what is this??? People know how to write interesting female characters???? I am all the heart eyes.
  • Nathaniel being all mysterious and broody and witty and sarcastic but not rude, just…witty and sarcastic. And mysterious. And sad. And lonely. And in need of hugs.
  • Nathaniel being simultaneously alarmed, impressed, and highly amused by Elizabeth
  • Silas. So kind, so fastidious…yet so chilling at times.
  • The grimy Victorian world – carriages! Balls! Dresses! Strict librarians in dusty robes! Slums! Lunatic asylums! Gossipy rich people at gossipy rich people parties in gossipy rich people houses! True delight to a Dickens fan, really.
  • Stuff actually happens. It’s a welcome change from all the really slow-paced books I’ve read or tried to read recently. Once I looked and I was only halfway done and so much had already happened. It was awesome.
  • Like many another fantasy heroine, Elizabeth is Special. But in kind of an unexpected and fun and lowkey way…and I liked that a lot.
  • There are sentient books


  • The magic in general is ihhherhhchh (ihhherhhchh being an adjective expressing a very particular sort of feeling; look it up in the dictionary if you want the full definition) and kinda made me uncomfortable? Not enough to really bother me, but…ihhherhhchh.
  • It starts off amazing, but toward the end it loses a little of its freshness and becomes more Generic Heroine and Generic Hero team up to generically save the world from Generic Villain. Nathaniel got more boring, and Elizabeth, who started out so interesting, got more boring too. It was kind of sad. But not enough to ruin the book.
  • That one scene…children, please, not so much kissing. Restrain yourselves.

Exit Strategy

Martha Wells

My very informative summary: Murderbot was planning to rejoin its old friends with the evidence it has gathered, but now it appears Dr. Mensah has been kidnapped. So Murderbot joins up with only some of its old friends to rescue her. Things do not go as planned. There is fighting. There is Murderbot being snarky. There is Murderbot being very worried about its humans and disguising it by being snarky. There is Unhealth.

So much Unhealth.


  • Murderbot’s whole attitude toward humans
  • Murderbot not liking to look at people’s faces if they’re looking at it
  • Murderbot just wanting to win
  • Pin Lee being a grouch – I forgot I actually kind of like her
  • Ratthi being a ridiculously excited puppy (he’s a human, he’s just a human with the personality of a ridiculously excited puppy) – Ratthi was the only one besides Murderbot I cared about in Book 1. He’s fun.
  • Gurathin being a pretty great person even if Murderbot is stupid and doesn’t agree
  • Action scenes that I can…actually…follow???
  • Kind of a happy ending for my precious Murderbot


  • The occasional not-read-aloudable language
  • I hate how almost…not science fiction a lot of the most depressing aspects of the world-building feel, heh.


William Shakespeare

My very informative summary: Some witches tell this guy he’ll get promoted, and then they also say he’ll be king. He gets promoted, so his wife decides he has to be king too. So he murders the actual king. Then he and his wife both get really paranoid and insane and kill people, and Macduff is awesome. (Is it just me or are these summaries going downhill as we go?)


  • Macduff. I like this guy. He has great lines when he’s talking about his family, and when he’s confronting Macbeth, and when Malcolm is being weird…he’s awesome.
  • The true smallness of evil, as exemplified by Macbeth
  • All the DRAMA
  • Holling Hoodhood was onto something; would this play be nearly as fun to read without insults like “thou cream-faced loon” peppered throughout?
  • Banquo’s ghost! Really, what a scene (because, as I said before, the DRAMA)
  • “Haha! You think I can’t hurt you, but I CAN! Because my mom had a C-SECTION!!!” (It was just funny to me, is all…)


  • The witches were kind of boring and cheap and I feel like actually undermined the theme a bit? There was really no reason to have fantasy elements in the play, and it would’ve been better if they’d definitively not actually had the power of prediction, and Macbeth and Lady Macbeth just wholly and completely deceived themselves.

What’s Wrong With the World

G. K. Chesterton

My very informative summary: Brief answer to the question the title poses: socialists, conservatives, feminists, the Industrial Revolution, definitely eugenicists, and human greed in general.


  • Learning why Chesterton didn’t support female suffrage! I was so curious to see what he’d say, because I kind of just…didn’t know what kind of argument you could possibly advance against it that wasn’t, at the very least, rather patronizing and, well, dated in the bad sense. But Chesterton, true to form, had actually thought it through, wasn’t clinging blindly to tradition or prejudice, and though I don’t agree with his position, I can not only respect it, I can somewhat understand it too. It’s…a cool feeling, actually.
  • Hudge and Gudge. I love the names Chesterton came up with for the over-the-top Socialist and Tory. Ever since I read this, I keep seeing people being either irrationally reactionary or irrationally stick-in-the-mud, and I always think, “ah, you must be friends with Hudge,” or “dear me, how Gudgian of you.” It’s provided me with a great deal of private amusement.
  • Chesterton’s view of women. Not exactly my own, but he has such good insight. He’s impossibly conservative, yet he has more actual respect for women (as women) than the most obnoxious “AREN’T WOMEN SO AWESOME, LOOK AT ME, I’M SO COOL BECAUSE I AM A WOMAN AND WOMEN ARE GODDESSES SO WHY AREN’T YOU WORSHIPPING US YET” feminist I’ve come across. Because, like…he gets what we’re actually like? He’s not praising us on false grounds? It’s refreshing. “He must manage to endure somehow the idea of a woman being womanly, which does not mean soft and yielding, but handy, thrifty, rather hard, and very humorous.”
  • Chesterton’s view on the family and the purpose thereof
  • “If a house is so built as to knock a man’s head off when he enters it, it is built wrong.”
  • His good humor combined with his deep sincerity
  • The way he just, like, respects people. Because they’re people. And they’re made in God’s image. And you can’t put a price on them or put them in a box or in any way diminish their immeasurable value.


  • I genuinely don’t know what to put here. I disagree with Chesterton on a number of points, some of them even rather important points, but I feel like that’s the fun of reading sometimes – engaging with a well-constructed challenge to your own beliefs, getting to see what other people think and why they think it while at the same getting it more solidly settled what you think.

The Sherwood Ring

Elizabeth Marie Pope

My very informative summary: Uh….Revolutionary War-era New York countryside! Sabotage and codes and gentlemen and ladies and elegant banter and ploys to outwit the enemy (with whom you might actually have fallen in love, oops). Highly plot-relevant bean pots and punch bowls. Robin Hood is inexplicably absent, but I don’t even care because I loved this so much.


  • The proposal scene. I was told in advance that the gentleman in question’s proposal included him falling flat on his face, and indeed it did, but it didn’t go how I expected it to, somehow? And it was so infinitely good. So good. That whole scene. I loved Dick and Eleanor’s scenes, but then we got to Peacable and Barbara’s scenes and it was somehow even better and AGGHHH. I love all these characters so much.
  • Really enjoyed Dick’s character. His…boyish dignity and manly sense of responsibility and cockiness and grit and pluck…I love him a lot. (I love all four of them a lot, frankly. But I guess Dick was my favorite? Not that I want to pick a favorite.) My favorite Dick quote: “‘Well, I don’t suppose Peacable is just going to walk up and say, “Here I am, boys, and which is the best room in the Goshen county jail?”‘ Dick retorted, cheerfully. ‘Dear me, how unheroic I sound. I ought to be saying, “We will conquer or die on the field!” as I give you a stern but tender look and bend down from my saddle to kiss you farewell.”
  • Also, my favorite Peacable quote: “How marvellous a thing is the exact truth, properly manipulated!”
  • Also, Barbara. What a lovely, lovely character. She’s what makes the proposal scene (and that whole chapter) what it is. I love her, her cool, intelligent courage and her ladylikeness. (I know it’s not a real word. But she’s so ladylike.)
  • I am a devoted fan of Elizabeth Marie Pope’s writing style. You’ve heard, I imagine, that brevity is the soul of wit? Well, it’s also the soul of pathos, of excitement, of atmospheric description, of character delineation…or at least, because we mustn’t act as if Dickens and Dostoyevsky don’t exist, it can be. And it is, the way Miss Pope writes. I love her characters and get invested in her stories and never once do I feel any of it is too much. Which is a rare gift, actually, for an author to never cross the line of too much.
  • The Revolutionary War vibes. I was thinking I like Miss Pope’s other book, The Perilous Gard, better, and there are reasons for that, but also, like…the whole atmosphere of this is my thing. I love colonial and Revolutionary War-era America, I’m just in love (much more so than with Tudor England), and reading this was kind of like the first time I read Johnny Tremain and just absolutely lost myself in Revolutionary-War New England. (I guess this isn’t as big a deal to someone who’s less in love with the time period than me, though? Or even who’s read a decent amount of books set in it – if you have recs for this area, please let me know, I’m dying for some.)
  • The perfect, New England, summer peace of the ending paragraphs ❤


  • I guess I don’t care about the present-day storyline much? Not much happens, etc, etc, and the characters aren’t as fascinating. I do understand the use of the framing device for letting each of the historical characters tell their own stories, and it doesn’t detract from the book because Miss Pope doesn’t ever spend too long on the present-day characters (who are nice enough in their way) without getting us back to the exciting stuff, but I still think the story would’ve been stronger without it.
  • The ghost element didn’t bother me like I was afraid it would (that’s why it took me so long to read this, actually, even after loving The Perilous Gard so much, because for whatever reason I just really don’t like ghosts in stories), but it still wasn’t my favorite.
  • These are both nitpicks, one of them highly personal. This book is pretty much perfect and I love it and I’m here for all of it, okay? If you take one thing away from this post, let it be: go read The Sherwood Ring. (And then come back and tell me whatcha think.)

Well, that was a lot. Did you make it through?? Have you read any of these? Opinions??? Do you love Revolutionary-War era America or Elizabeth Marie Pope’s books??? Do you purposefully make yourself sad about doomed WWI flyboys??? Does mythology ever surprise you with just how messed-up it is?

The This or That Tag

What’s up, guys, I’m doing a tag. (Also can you say this post title five times fast)

The wonderful C. M. (or as I like to call her, Mademoiselle Tomato) over at Project Pursue Wisdom tagged me for this not too long ago, and y’all should go check out her post (and her lovely blog in general) if you haven’t already, because it was a really fun post to read. (All the Red Rising quotes. I’m dying to read Red Rising now.)

Anyway, rules! Or…not, since I don’t plan to follow them. So, questions!

Fantasy or sci-fi?

Fantasy, my dear sirs and madams, fantasy!

I can tolerate certain types of sci-fi, particularly if they are particularly excellent, but the trappings of the genre are just not my favorite.

Sci-fi is a very philosophical genre, where for her setting the author has to create a possible future. Sometimes that future is bleak and sometimes it’s supposed to be optimistic, but there’s a certain horror that steals into the back of my mind when I have to imagine any of these worlds; the optimistic ones are just as bad as the bleak ones, because if that’s your idea of a good future…I’d hate to see your idea of a bad one.

Whereas fantasy doesn’t have disturbing connections to the real world – not like that. Fantasy is about the Other – our half-forgotten desire to see what’s invisible, to communicate across barriers, to enter a world that’s different from ours, and to encounter both beauty and peril more intense than the kind we run into here. Really good fantasy is an Experience (the exhilarating kind).

Fantasy feeds my sense of wonder, while sci-fi feeds my sense of despair.

Plus fantasy has the sub-genres of, like, fairy tales and whimsical middle grade and mythology and magical quests. It’s just my thing.

Tragedy or comedy?

What’s wrong with you, asking this question? I don’t know.

I would think comedy (happy endings are the best kind), but I have no faith in modern people’s ability to write comedy. (Modern people as in the modern people writing well-known stuff, not as in every writer I’ve ever met – some of y’all, I know, write excellent comedy. An example might be… oh, Friends, for instance. Can’t stand that show. Or any modern action-comedy I’ve ever tried to watch. So plastic.) They’re better at tragedy, because you can write effective tragedy even if your understanding of redemption is lacking, so long as your understanding of sin isn’t.

In an ideal world full of ideal stories, though, comedy. They have happy endings and laughter, my two favorite things.

Fiction or nonfiction?

If I had to only ever read one or the other…….

I hate this question…….

I think I’d go with nonfiction, though? I love fiction, I do, but no more history, no more science, no more philosophy? No. I couldn’t deal with that.

One still has one’s imagination. I need to be able to feed my curiosity about the world and its workings more than I need imagination help. (Much more, actually. :P)

Snow or rain?

Oh, but I love both.

I…really love both.

Snow makes me happier, just because it’s rarer. I have a lovely memory from high school, actually, involving snow.
See, I’d been sick. For a week. And this was in the middle of the hours-every-night rehearsal season of the musical I was in. (I was just ensemble, but you still have to be there all the time at this point.) And so obviously I went back as soon as I could, but I was not really well yet, and for…several weeks afterward, I had no energy, no joy, no anything. I was a shell of a person. It was actually rather odd.

But, two nights before the first performance, as I was driving the two of us – my sister and I – to rehearsal, just as we turned into the parking lot, snow started falling. These little flurries hit my windshield, one after the other after the other…and remembering it still gives me this pang of joy at how beautiful and worth living life is.

Rain has never had quite that effect…so snow it is.

Orange juice or apple juice?

They’re both good in moderation, and I don’t drink either very often. I think orange juice elevates a breakfast to an extent apple juice doesn’t. But a glass of apple juice floating with ice cubes to be sipped at leisurely on a hot summer afternoon (or at your right hand doing its best to impersonate whiskey while you play poker with your sisters and the neighbors)…well, that’s exceedingly pleasant too.

I might like the taste of orange juice a smidge better?

Christmas or Easter?

They’re inextricably connected, obviously. Rather like the beginning and the ending of a book. And I prefer beginnings, in a way. Not because wonderful endings aren’t the best thing in the world, but because beginnings promise that ending to come and are cozy to boot. Christmas is a very cozy hearthside holiday, while Easter is more like being on the lake in a high September wind. You can’t pick between them, it’s not like that. But if I’ve got to pick, Christmas.

Middle-earth or Narnia?


But Middle-earth. Middle-earth has the Ents. There are other reasons too, not that you need them. Because Ents.

Marvel or DC?

Uh…Marvel? I don’t know that that’s fair, considering I’ve never seen anything DC (not that I’ve wanted to either – even Marvel I was forced into).

Well, that’s not true. I did once see the tail end of a TV show episode where a tied-up and unconscious Batman was being slowly conveyor-belted into a huge flaming oven…? And then there was dramatic music and the episode was over.

So, Marvel.

Star Wars or Star Trek?

Star Trek.

I like Star Wars, I do, but I didn’t see it till I was a teenager. It was that movie my parents really liked that they were always saying we should watch, but then we never did because we didn’t own it and we didn’t watch movies much anyway. When we finally did watch it, my sisters were young enough to get obsessed with Luke Skywalker, but I…wasn’t. Sadly.

I wasn’t even young enough to get obsessed with Han. I have no idea why my middle sister liked Luke better than Han, actually…wisecracking scoundrels are sort of her thing.

I still like Star Wars, quite a lot, but I grew up on Star Trek and I’m ridiculously fond of several of the ridiculous characters. (And the premise appeals to me more.)

Old movies or new movies?

So, I think when it comes to movies, I’m like those people who don’t care about prose in books. Because sure, color and sound quality and editing techniques and such things are much better in new movies (I guess), but I genuinely don’t care. The story and the dialogue are all that matter.

Plus, I like the black-and-white aesthetic. And even when old movies aren’t in black and white, they have a style of dialogue that I like much better than modern movies. I like dialogue that’s not just clever, but smart. Quips that require you to know something, or have paid attention to something, to get. Dialogue in modern movies often feels sloppy and lazy to me, at least in comparison to dialogue from Hollywood’s Golden Age.

Also I tend to prefer older acting styles, I think. They’re maybe less realistic, but they’re somehow more convincing. To me.

I don’t know why, really. I just know I tend to like old movies better.

Old books or new books?

Well, I hate to be predictable, but old again. There are new books I love, but…while my reading life would be a little poorer without them, it’d be way, way, way poorer without all the old books I have read. Seriously, no Tolkien, no Rosemary Sutcliff, no Chesterton, no Robert Louis Stevenson, no Helen MacInnes, no Song of Roland, no myths, no fairy tales, no Charles Dickens, no Sabatini, no Lucy Maud Montgomery, no James Herriot, no A. A. Milne? Horrible thought.

(I could go on. I just stopped myself there because I really could go on and on.)

And that’s not even to mention all the old books I’m still dying to read. There are a few new books I’m mildly interested in (okay, MORE THAN MILDLY when it comes to The Silent Bells and Boys of Blur and Return of the Thief and West of Yesterday), but…old books are where it’s at, my friends. The history, the depth, the…the vast swaths of time across which books have been written, wherein you can dig for manifold treasures! I want to read all the old books. All of them.

So much I cannot say for the new ones.

Thank you again for tagging me, C.M.! This was a very fun, if painful, post to write up. And…am I allowed to just tag all of y’all in the comments? Because that’s what I’m doing.

Don’t Bleed on the Floor // One Quirk Later #7

Just so you know, I’m posting this at all because I dared myself to and you can’t back down from a dare.

If it doesn’t make sense, sorry. The idea is that it’s an audio transcript. (And the recording mic seems to have been way closer to not-Andre than to Andre.)

We can also blame Jem for this little monstrosity of a short story…thing?, because she has once again posted one of her One Quirk Later flash fiction prompts…which inspired me so much that I immediately sat down and dashed this off instead of studying for that statics exam that I probably just failed. (I hope you’re happy, Jem.) Here’s a link to the post with all the info!

And, uh, I hope any of you who decide to read it enjoy the story! I will not be mad if you don’t, though. You’re probably a much more sane and balanced and healthy person than I am (or than these poor brothers are), so yeah.

Don’t Bleed on the Floor

~an audio transcript, acquired under dubious circumstances~

She is an odd girl. You know the sort, I imagine – you’re so much more experienced than me. (That, Andre, was what they call a double-entendre.) She is an odd girl, though. She asks questions not out of politeness but out of barely-bridled curiosity. She wears all sorts of styles – whatever she feels like on a particular day – sky-blue dress with a skirt made for swing-dancing – black skinny jeans, Converse hi-tops, ratty T-shirt, old baseball cap she probably got from a rummage sale. We were in a flea market, and she was staring at this set of old flower-painted porcelain dishes for four and a half minutes (I counted). I offered to buy them for her. She said thank you (she says that a lot, always in this surprised way), but she wouldn’t ever use them really. She asked if I knew what she meant that, sometimes, something is so pretty you have to look at it for a while. And then longer than a while, because a while isn’t long enough after all. That was how I felt about her (remember how much more experienced you are than me, Andre, and don’t laugh), but I suggested sunsets. “Yes!” she said. “Like that.” She was pleased.  She never talked about herself, actually. Do you realize how much more you learn about someone when she doesn’t talk about herself? I found out – not because she said so, of course – she thinks she’s boring. You know the type, I’m sure.


But you get it, don’t you? I thought so. I wasn’t calling her when they dragged me out of the phone booth, by the way. I was calling her mother. I saw your guys before they got there; that’s why I hung up. You might have dragged her into it too, for all I know. I’m laughing because it was the exact same words. You’ll be amused too when I tell you. No, I know you will. You like irony, don’t you? I was chopping the salad for her mother. Cut my finger. And she said, “Don’t bleed on my floor!” Like that. And wrapped it all up for me, washed it and everything. Don’t bleed on my floor. It is funny.


All right. Isn’t this floor yours too, though? I’m so sorry; I do appear to have gotten blood on it. Quite a lot of blood, actually. Well, it’s my floor too, I guess. I admit, the bloodstains wouldn’t go with the rest of the kitchen décor. It might go with the broken window pane, but that’s all behind us now, isn’t it? Your tie’s crooked. Yeah, that’s better. You shouldn’t do these things yourself, you know; it’s messy. All the great backstabbers and crime bosses have people to do their dirty work for them. That’s why their ties are so straight.


Right, the girl. Well, she would have appreciated it – you’re so boring when you’re angry, Andre. “Don’t bleed on my floor” – in that voice you do so well. You look like – oh, a frat boy, the hair and the teeth and the sculpted jaw. Only a frat boy can’t be really intimidating, and you are. Truly intimidating, I mean. It isn’t one of those B-movie villain affairs – you sneer but you don’t snarl, and you don’t overdo it. And there’s just a hint – I could just suspect –


Well, I knew it, didn’t I? Or I wouldn’t have –



Right, the girl. Right. You know, I’m not really planning to tell you anything useful. I just like this part, where I do less unmanly shrieking and you get to practice your budding skill of patience. It’s coming along nicely, by the way. That tic in your right jaw, I can barely see it. Of course, I can barely see anything at the moment, I think I’m – I think – going to –



I protest. I can’t talk about true love when I feel like I’m going to puke my guts out. It’s indecent.


Okay, okay, okay. I can try. Let’s see. She is an odd girl. I don’t think she’d be surprised if she walked in that door – over there – there’s a door over there, isn’t there? I can’t see it. She – she won’t walk through it, because – because why the hell else are we here, like this? – but if she did she wouldn’t be surprised. Did I tell you how she always said “thank you”? Like she was so surprised. I told her about you – no, not like that. Not like that. I mean I told her about growing up. Baseball and things. Mr. Kramer’s window. So she thinks you’re a bleeding saint of a big brother. But she still wouldn’t be surprised, that’s what I mean. I was surprised. And I was an idiot, too. I’ve known you all my life, and – and I was an idiot. It wouldn’t have changed anything, probably – oh, and sentiment, sure, auld lang syne – but I’m supposed to be smart, aren’t I?


Yeah. Yeah, you’re never going to find her, are you? You’re never going to find her.


Don’t do that, Andre. There’s not any point. I know it doesn’t feel good to be beaten by your little brother, but consider – it doesn’t feel good to be beaten by your older brother either. (Another double-entendre. That was a pretty good one, wasn’t it?)


You think I’d rather be in your place?



No, no, I’m fine, I was just – I was just laughing – because –


Mr. Kramer’s window – I told her about Mr. Kramer’s window. Did I tell you that? That’s what I mean. Maybe I’d have turned into…into…well, I haven’t, though, have I? You’d face Mr. Kramer’s wrath for your little brother, but not Ferlinghetti’s. Well, maybe you would have back then. But I got her away from all of you. All of you. You won’t be able to find her, and Ferlinghetti won’t be able to find her, and you – well, you still have Ferlinghetti’s good opinion, at least, right? He has probably has a better opinion of you than ever. Business first, then family. What’s left of it.


Well. Glad that’s over with. Now I can go read everybody else’s stories, which I’ve been wild to do! (Didn’t want to before, because that usually drains me of all inspiration, and would definitely have drained me of the courage to actually post this…which I’m still not 100% sure I’m going to do…)

Oh, and this is the prompt:

It is a very cool prompt. The blood, the phone. I like.