I Capture the Castle // by Dodie Smith

//published 1948//

This is one of those books that I can’t believe it took me so long to get around to reading it.  The title seems to crop up on all kinds of list of “books everyone should read,” and I’ve never read a negative review of it anywhere.  Plus, The Hundred and One Dalmatians is literally one of my favorite books of all time.

If you’re like me, and have somehow reached adulthood without discovering this book, it is about a family living in a run-down castle (in England, of course; we are sadly bereft of castles in the States) between the wars.  Cassandra is our narrator, and the entire book is actually her diary, which she begins in March of the year that she is 17.  Cassandra lives with her father, who wrote a famous book (but hasn’t written anything else since); her stepmother, who is a model for painters and an artist herself; her older sister, Rose (the “beautiful” sister); and her younger brother, Thomas.  The family is becoming rather desperately poor, as Father doesn’t do much besides read detective novels and work crossword puzzles.  Rose is especially discontented with their poverty, and the complete lack of eligible young men.

But everything changes for the Mortmain family when new neighbors arrive – including two handsome (and eligible) brothers.  Rose sets her cap for the oldest, since he’s the one with the money, and the story unfolds from there.  It’s not a book with a fast pace or one that you want to gulp down in big sections, but rather a gentle tale that unfolds at the perfect pace.  I always wanted to know what was going to happen next, but never so much so that I couldn’t take the time to savor Smith’s excellent writing.

All in all, Cassandra is a delight, and I loved getting to know her through her writing.  She definitely felt her age, a mixture of confidence and hesitancy, worldly knowledge and naivety, self-awareness and complete unawareness.  I completely fell in love with her family, especially her stepmother, Topaz, who was probably my favorite character in the whole book.

Still, I couldn’t give this book a full 5* rating, although it did garner 4 from me quite easily.  I felt like the story really bogged down once Cassandra fell in love.  I grew rather bored with the hash and rehash of her feelings.  People being in love is my #1 reason for not liking first-person perspectives.  Can anything be more dull than listening to someone else try to explain (at length) a feeling that can never be explained?  Yes, yes, I get it, he’s amazing, you can’t describe how you feel, so please stop trying.

I also did not personally care for the ending, as I prefer endings to be unambiguously happy, and this one, while not unhappy, still definitely had some open endings with no promise of how they would play out in the future.

This book has been on my radar for many a year, although it was Lady Fancifull’s excellent review that made me actually add it to the TBR, leading to actually getting read!  It does appear that Smith has written some other novels, so I may give one of them a whirl.  While I Capture the Castle did not become an instant classic for me, it was excellently written and very pleasurable reading.  Definitely recommended.

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Made From Scratch: Discovering the Pleasures of a Handmade Life // by Jenna Woginrich

//published 2008//

This book was interesting because it was part memoir and part how-to.  Basically, Woginrich talks about how she wanted to start living a more sustainable life, but there wasn’t any way that she could quit her job and start living off the land somewhere – mainly because she didn’t have any land to live off of.  Instead, she started trying to make small changes in her regular life.  This book talks about her efforts and her mistakes, and encourages her readers to start trying to become more self-sufficient even if they aren’t comfortable butchering their own hogs and building a log cabin by hand.

It was also interesting because I actually read Woginrich’s second book, Barnhearta while back.  In this book, she’s still living a small town in Idaho, and ends her story by driving across the country to a new job in Vermont.  Barnheart focuses on the Vermont home.

While this book does cover some of the more “regular” topics in homestead-y books, like chickens and gardening, she also touches on things like sewing, knitting, antiquing, teaching your dog to carry a pack, and learning how to play an acoustic instrument.  She raises bees and angora rabbits (as well as the traditional chickens and tomatoes) and has a strong sense of humor, even while recounting some pretty serious mistakes.

Each chapter is focused on a different aspect of a more self-sufficient life.  Woginrich talks about how she got started in that area, some of what she’s learned, and concludes with some practical how-tos for the area.  She also has an extensive list of resources in the back, with actual descriptions of things so you don’t have to just mindlessly visit a bunch of websites, hoping to find what you want.  This book isn’t an end-all reference guide, but it’s a great place to start for some inspiration and ideas.

I really liked that Woginrich is (at the time of writing this book, anyway) both single and a renter.  These are two obstacles that many people use to put off learning about self-sufficiency, but Woginrich doesn’t let those things stop her.  A flexible landlord definitely helps if you want to raise chickens and bees, or plant a large garden, but things like container gardening, learning how to sew, and canning, can be done anywhere.

Frequently, I get annoyed when people assume that because I’m prolife and fiscally conservative, I must also hate nature and love eating meat raised on factory farms.  It’s 100% possible to be socially and fiscally conservative, and to also believe in shopping locally, eating food that has been raised humanely, reconnecting with our heritage, and supporting parks.  While I don’t have any idea where Woginrich stands on political issues, her book reminded me that learning to be more self-sufficient is important, challenging, and interesting – and that taking baby steps are better than taking no steps at all.  4/5 and recommended.

February Minireviews – Part 1

So I find that I not-infrequently read books that I just don’t have a lot of things to say about.  Sometimes it’s because it was a super meh book (most of these are 3/5 reads), or sometimes it’s because it was just so happy that that’s about all I can say about it!  However, since I also use this blog as a sort of book-review diary, I like to at least say something.  So I’ve started a monthly post with minireviews of all those books that just didn’t get more than a few paragraphs of feelings from me.

Last Christmas in Paris by Elizabeth Gaynor and Heather Webb

//published 2017//

This book is a collection of letters written between several different individuals during World War I.  The majority of the correspondence is between Tom and Evie – Evie is the younger sister of Tom’s best friend, Will.  It’s pretty obvious that Tom and Evie are going to end up together, but that didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the story.

I really loved this book for about the first 3/4 of the way.  The letters were delightful, the characters engaging, and the voices different enough to make it really feel like I was reading letters from and to different people.  Epistolary tales can be rather narrow, but because we have letters between people besides the two main characters, the story felt fairly well-rounded.  It definitely had a Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society vibe about it.  I really liked the upbeat sense to this book.  It was serious, yes, but it wasn’t all doom and gloom and there were no plot twists were someone turned out to be gay.

But then Evie goes to France also, and the story just kind of fell apart.  The correspondence became disjointed, and the characters no longer felt like they were being true to themselves.  There were also a few instances where I was uncertain of the continuity because of weirdly long gaps between letters.  It was very strange to me that for the first three years, they write letters all the time, then suddenly in 1917 and 1918, there are only a handful of letters, which I think added to the feeling of disjointedness.

In the end, a 3/5 read for a book that started very strong and then just sort of petered out.

Something Fresh (AKA Something Newby P.G. Wodehouse

//published 1915//

In my quest to read all of Wodehouse’s books in published order, I have waded through over a decade’s worth of school stories and short story collections.  While all of them have been readable and even enjoyable for a one-time read, there have only been glimpses of what I consider to be genuine Wodehouse magic.

But the title of this book is definitely appropriate, as this is the first book that really begins to collect all the bits of what will later be the Wodehouse formula. Plus, it introduces one of my all-time favorite Wodehouse characters, Lord Emsworth of Blandings Castle.  While this book may still not be up to the standards of some of Wodehouse’s later works, it was still a delight from beginning to end.

After reading a collection of Wodehouse’s correspondence back in late 2016, I sometimes refer to A Life in Letters to see if Wodehouse himself had anything interesting to say about my current Wodehouse read.  I was intrigued to find that even he thought that Something Fresh was a new and better direction for his writing as well.  Was it because he found and married the love of his life a few months earlier?  I like to think so.

Brighty of the Grand Canyon by Marguerite Henry

//published 1953//

As I’ve mentioned before, Henry was one of my favorite authors growing up, and I devoured all of her books.  I collected a lot of them in cheap paperback editions published by Scholastic, and although I’ve upgraded a lot of them through the years, I still have a few of those paperbacks with my name scrawled in painful 2nd-grade cursive on the flyleaf.

I could look at his illustrations all day!

It had been a really long time since I had revisited this title, and while it was a decent story (and the illustrations by Wesley Dennis were magical as always), it really wasn’t one of my favorites.  In some ways, the story feels very choppy.  It’s about a little wild burro who lives in the Grand Canyon at the turn of the century (Theodore Roosevelt is president, and is even in the story!).  The problem is that Henry tries to tell both the story of Brighty’s everyday life + how he helped make the Grand Canyon the park that it is today AND the story of an old prospector who was murdered and how Brighty helped bring the killer to justice.  Except… the murder part feels very strange in a children’s book, and it also takes like ten years to solve the mystery, which makes no sense because why is Jake still around after all this time???  The murder mystery was definitely the weak part of the tale.  If it had been jettisoned and more focus had been made just on Brighty’s life in the Canyon, I think the book would have read better.

In fairness, Henry was basing Brighty on a real burro, who, in real life, did discover a clue that lead to the capture of a murderer – but still.  Brighty had plenty of other adventures.  Still, a very readable little book, and the illustrations really do make it a joy.  3.5/5.

Shelfie by Shelfie // Shelf 1B

Last fall, Bibliobeth started a new book tag, Shelfie by Shelfie.  You can see her original post here – and I’ve nabbed her image as well.  :-D  The concept is that you take a picture of a bookshelf, and then answer ten questions about the books on it.  I have about a billion bookshelves, so I thought that I would give it a go!

Welcome to another edition of Shelfie by Shelfie! As I mentioned in my first post, I have roughly a million shelves.  I’ve started with what I consider to by Shelf #1, because it’s where my shelved-alphabetically fiction begins.  Last time I did the top shelf, and today we are onto the second!

This is Shelf 1 (we’re remodeling, so there is kind of stuff everywhere)

In case you missed the last Shelfie post, basically I’ll post the picture of the shelf, and then answer some questions about it.

Shelf 1B

1 – Is there any reason for this shelf being organized the way it is, or is it purely random?

For the most part, I keep my fiction shelved alphabetically by the last name of the author, in traditional library fashion.  There are, of course, exceptions, but this particular shelf is pretty true to method.

2 – Tell us a story about one of the books on this shelf that is special to you; i.e. how you got it, a memory associated with it, etc.

Oh wow, this is a tough one on this shelf, as there are some definite favorites here.  I love the Chronicles of Prydain so much, and C.W. Anderson was a childhood hero – I found those books at a library discard sale and was SO excited.  But I think I’m going to have to focus on Mr. Popper’s Penguins, which is honestly just a ridiculous story that I loved so much as a kid.  I very clearly remember Dad reading this one out loud to us kids and just how overwhelmingly silly the story was, but in a really fun way.  The illustrations by Robert Lawson also tell so much of the story.

3 – Which book from this shelf would you ditch if you were forced to and why?

Probably Time Cat by Lloyd Alexander, mainly because I’ve owned it for years and never gotten around to reading it.

4 – Which book from this shelf would you save in an emergency and why?

I’m not hardcore attached to any specific edition of a book on this shelf, but probably one of the hardcover C.W. Anderson books, as they are the actual ones I used to check out of the library as a little girl!

5 – Which book has been on this shelf for the longest time?

I think the book I’ve owned the longest is The Mysterious Schoolmaster by Karen Anckarsvard.  You can’t see very well in the picture, but there are several books by her.  Set (and written) in Sweden, four of the books take place in the same town and involve some of the same characters, starting with Schoolmaster, which focuses on an unlikely duo of two children who end up helping to catch a spy.  This book is just so fun and happy and full of warm family moments.

6 – Which book is the newest addition to this shelf?

The bright book towards the far right is actually a soft, leather-bound edition of Persuasion that I purchased with my birthday money last year (but of course haven’t gotten around to reading yet…)

7 – Which book on this shelf are you most excited to read (or reread if this is a favorite shelf)?

It’s been a pretty long time since I’ve read any of these books, so I would be happy to pick up any of them.  Talking about The Mysterious Schoolmaster makes me want to read those books again, though!

8 – If there is an object on this shelf apart from books, tell us the story behind it.

Since these tend to be knickknack shelves as well as bookshelves, there always seem to be other objects!

The dragon picture is fancy-pants artwork created by my very own sister, who drew the dragon, and our cousin, who created the background.  I love that lil two-headed dragon!  The collie is a childhood companion who has traveled with me through the years – I’ve always had a soft spot for collies and border collies!  The rock in front of the collie is actually from England – a friend brought it back for me (I’ll get there myself someday!).  The teacup is my very own from girlhood – Mom used to have fancy tea parties with us (brothers included) and everyone had their own cup and saucer and we sipped hot chocolate and ate Little Debbies that had been cut into small pieces and felt very grown up.  The other photos are from our honeymoon in the Keys.

9 – What does this shelf tell us about you as a reader?

Um I guess that I like to keep things organized, and also that I hang onto to random little things that have happy memories associated with them.

10 – Choose other bloggers to tag or choose a free question you make up yourself.

Of course hopefully everyone will join in, as this is a super fun way to see everyone’s book collections!!  For a free question –

What is a quote that you love from one of these books?

I really love Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles, and Taran Wanderer may be my favorite of the five.  As Taran wanders through the country, meeting people and trying to understand life, he comes across many different philosophies.  One of the reminders that I love best is –

If I fret over tomorrow, I’ll have little joy today.

Mountain Pony series // by Henry V. Larom

  • Mountain Pony
  • Mountain Pony and the Pinto Colt
  • Mountain Pony and the Rodeo Mystery
  • Mountain Pony and the Elkhorn Mystery

//published 1946//

I’ve collected these books over the years, but had never actually sat and read all four of them together.  Elkhorn was a very recent acquisition, so I had actually never read it at all, and the other three hadn’t been read in years.  I was pleasantly surprised at how well these stories held up from my childhood memories.

// I now have the Famous Horse Stories edition, but originally I had this one, with Andy punching the villain in the face! BAM! //

Once again, these were published as Famous Horse Stories.  Larom is definitely one of my favorite authors from that collection.  While his stories are still kind of outlandish, they’re great fun and the characters are drawn well.  These books focus on Andy, a teenage boy who is from New York but has traveled to Wyoming to visit his uncle, who owns a ranch in the mountains.

While the main players are done well (Andy, Uncle Wes, Sally), the background characters are very background, and some of them don’t even exist – for instance, we never meet Andy’s parents – not in four books!  In many ways this book is more about the setting than it is the people, and there is a real sense of time and place – the wilderness of the Rockies in the 1930’s, when things were still a bit wild west-ish.

//published 1947//

Andy is quite the “dude” when he first arrives, and within a week he recklessly purchases a horse because the horse’s current owner is abusing it.  Luckily for Andy, Sunny turns out to be an excellent purchase, and the little sorrel cowpony is as important a character as any in these stories.

//published 1949//

While Sunny is quite intelligent, he is still a horse, and I liked the realistic feel of these stories.  Andy makes plenty of mistakes throughout the tales, but he grows and matures as well, and isn’t afraid to admit it when he does something stupid.  Each book covers a different summer, and by Elkhorn, Andy has actually purchased his own ranch – albeit a small, ramshackle one.

//published 1950//

Sometimes these books got a little bit ridiculous (especially Rodeo Mystery, which spiraled a bit out of control credulity-wise), but overall they actually read well, and were just enjoyable, wholesome tales that made me yearn to buy my own ramshackle ranch in Wyoming.

While these aren’t immediate classics, they are definitely books that would be enjoyed by fellow horse-lovers, or by young’uns who love cowboys.  Overall, a 4/5 for this series, and one that I’m glad to keep on the shelves.

Dreamtreader Trilogy // by Wayne Thomas Batson

  • Dreamtreaders
  • Search for the Shadow Key
  • War for the Waking World

I didn’t realize until I got these books from the library that they are published by Thomas Nelson (Christian publishing house), so I wasn’t initially expecting the strong religious message in these books.  However, they still had a decent story to tell, although Batson at times seemed uncertain of how to weave religion into the tale.  Overall, I enjoyed these as a one-time read, but they definitely weren’t books I see myself returning to.

//published 2014//

In the first book we meet Archer, our unlikely teenage hero who has a mysterious power and heavy responsibility – he is one of only three Dreamtreaders – people who have the ability to control their dreams and thus work to keep the Dreamworld separate from the Waking World.  Each Dreamtreader is responsible for a different portion of the Dreamworld, and spends his time there searching for and repairing breaches in the fabric that keeps the Dreamworld separate from our own.  Within the Dream, the Dreamtreaders have all kinds of powers to create and do things they could never do in the Waking World.

However, there are dark forces at work within the Dreamworld.  The Nightmare Lord runs around making everyone’s dreams terrible, and also wants to destroy the fabric between the two worlds – if he can escape from the Dreamworld, he can wreak even more chaos and destruction.

//published 2014//

It took me a little while to really get into this story, and I seriously considered not finishing about halfway through the first book as things were still quite slow.  But the pace picked up and things did get more interesting.  However, it overall felt like these books could have used one more round of editing.  There were parts throughout that were choppy and disjointed, and also some minor continuity issues that aggravated me now and then.

On a personal level, I was really, REALLY over Archer’s favorite exclamation of “Snot rockets!”  I mean… seriously?  There has GOT to be a middle ground between swearing and absolutely juvenile exclamations like snot rockets.  It really grated on my nerves and felt like it brought down the overall maturity level of the story.

//published 2015//

I’m completely fine with fiction teaching a lesson or using a story as an allegory or whatever, but it has to be done well.  In these books, the religion aspect felt a little clumsy, like Batson knew what he wanted to say but wasn’t completely sure how to work it in.  Sometimes it was basically like THESE ARE ANGELS AND DEMONS HELLO and then other times everything was really vague.

There was also Batson’s habit of using the word “quipped” in very serious situations.  To me, “quip” is a word that suggests wry humor/sarcasm, but for instance at one point Archer is on trial for all these serious crimes and the judge “quips” when what the judge is saying isn’t remotely funny or sarcastic, but completely serious.  It was little things like that that sound really picky but somehow made these books not as enjoyable for me.

While these weren’t bad books, they were basically just a 3/5 read.  I can see the adventures (and exclamations of snot rockets) appealing to a middle school audience, but in my mind they lack the depth that make them appealing to a wider audience.

Rearview Mirror // January 2018

I can’t believe an entire month of 2018 is gone already!  Time is zooming by.

This month has been much better health-wise, so I’ve actually been getting some things done.  January is always a good time for new resolutions, and I have a housekeeping method that is keeping me on track so far, which is simplifying so many other things in my life!  I’ve also had a very good month selling notebooks on Etsy, which is quite exciting!!

I’ve read a lot of perfectly nice books this month, but nothing that I really fell in love with.  Unfortunately, Mom has been cleaning out a bunch of her bookcases (I come by my book-hoarding tendencies fairly!) and somehow her way of getting rid of books is to give them all to me…

Favorite January Read:

I think I’m going with Kids of Appetite by David Arnold.  While it had its weaknesses, I overall really enjoyed this story, mainly because the characters felt like real people (even though it seemed like they should just feel like stereotypes).  Plus, there was snarky humor throughout, which I always enjoy.  In the end, though, it was the depth and thoughtfulness of this book that really pushed it to the next level.  While not preachy, there were a lot of issues that came up and were dealt with in what felt like a healthy way.

Most Disappointing January Read:

While Thornhill by Pam Smy had a really engaging (and fast) format, I just couldn’t get past the way the story ended.  It felt completely inappropriate for its target age group.  I think the creepiness could have stayed without the suicide.

Other January Reads:

  • The Bees by Laline Paull – 2/5 – what the heck!?
  • The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley – 3.5/5 – a good story, but slow in spots.
  • The Cat and Mrs. Cary by Doris Gates – 4/5 – a long-time favorite that is just good fun.
  • The Cinderella List by Judy Baer – 3.5/5 – with a little more fleshing out, this could have been a really good book – the bones were there.
  • Copper-Toed Boots by Marguerite de Angeli – 4/5 – a really sweet children’s book – the main charm is the amazing illustrations by the author!
  • The Cornish Mysteries (Manna from Hades, A Colourful Death, and The Valley of the Shadow) by Carola Dunn – 3/5 – just kind of meh cozies.
  • Deadly Safari by Lisa Harris – 3.5/5 – it’s just really hard to take a book seriously when that’s the title.
  • The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley – 3/5 – interesting, but disjointed.
  • The Irish Legacy Trilogy (Irish Thoroughbred, Irish Rose, and Irish Rebel) by Nora Roberts – 3/5 – pleasant for a one-time read.
  • The Lodger by Marie Belloc Lowndes – 4/5 – a gripping read, although a bit rushed at the end.
  • The Mapmakers by John Noble Wilford – 4/5 – a really interesting nonfiction book about the history of maps and the people who create them.
  • Montana Hearts by Charlotte Carter – 3.5/5 – pleasant but predictable.
  • Safe in His Arms by Dana Corbit – 3/5 – alright but boring.
  • A Time to Heal by Linda Goodnight – 3.5/5 – do you think her name really is Goodnight, or did she just make that up?
  • Waiting for Normal by Leslie Connor – 3.5/5 – a good book, but not exactly a good children’s book, despite children being the audience…
  • Wrestling Prayer by Eric and Leslie Ludy – 4.5/5 – far too challenging.

Other January Posts:

I posted what will hopefully be the first in a series of Shelfies – a really entertaining book tag created by Bibliobeth.

My sister posted a guest review of Beauty and the Beast by one of her favorite authors, K.M. Shea.

Last January…

I couldn’t put down Michael Robotham’s Shatter.  I really, really enjoyed the Joseph O’Laughlin books, and hope another one comes out this year!  I was also completed weirded out but fascinated by The Shapeshifters by Stefan Spjut.  That book was weird but amazing.

TBR Update:

I’m not even sure we want to do this.  I’m blaming it all on my mom for giving me so many books!

For those of you who don’t know, I’m weirdly obsessive with organizing the TBR, and have it on a spreadsheet divided into five different tabs:

  • Standalones:  827 (up 7, probably because I finally caught up on reading everyone’s reviews!)
  • Nonfiction:  83 (down two!)
  • Personal (which includes all books I own (fiction and nonfiction), but lists any series I own as only one entry…):  691 (sigh)
  • Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series):  227 (up one)
  • Mystery Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series): 104 (down one!  Two months in a row!  Progress!)

Awaiting Review:

  • Last Christmas in Paris by Elizabeth Gayner and Heather Webb – I really enjoyed this book until the last 20-25% when it just fell flat.
  • Something Fresh by P.G. Wodehouse – I’m in love with Lord Emsworth.
  • I’m in the middle of the Mountain Pony series by Henry Larom and have so far read Mountain Pony and Mountain Pony and the Pinto Colt.  Two more books in this series!
  • I am also in the middle of the Dreamtreader trilogy.  So far, I’ve finished the first book, Dreamtreaders.
  • Brighty of the Grand Canyon by Marguerite Henry – enjoyable, but hasn’t aged as well as the Misty series that I reread last year.

Current Reads:

  • Mountain Pony and the Rodeo Mystery by Henry Larom – book #3 in the Mountain Pony series – these are actually quite entertaining.
  • Made from Scratch: Discovering the Pleasures of a Handmade Life by Jenna Woginrich – overall interesting so far.
  • Search for the Shadow Key by Wayne Thomas Batson – book #2 in the Dreamtreaders trilogy.
  • Amazing Gracie by Sherryl Woods – one of those romance books I picked up for a dime somewhere and never got around to reading.

Approaching the Top of the Pile:

The probable next five reads…

  • The Basket of Flowers by Christoph von Schmid – published by Lamplighter, who really does an amazing job – their books are beautiful!  However, their books can sometimes be a bit to saccharine for me, so I’ve let this one languish on the shelf for years.
  • Lost States by Michael Trinklein – my next nonfiction read… just as geography-based as the last one!
  • Hidden by Karen Olson – the first in the Black Hat Thriller series.
  • I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith – somehow, I’ve never read this classic, despite the fact that one of Smith’s other books, The Hundred and One Dalmatiansis one of my all-time favorites.
  • Radiance by Catherynne Valente – I’ve heard mixed reviews on this one so I’m not sure if I’ll like it.  But GR describes it as “a decopunk pulp SF alt-history space opera mystery set in a Hollywood—and solar system—very different from our own” so it should at least be different.