Sunday, September 20, 2020

Recap of Novels 151 – 160

Recap of Novels 151 – 160 

 

Average rating of novels 151 – 160:  3.7 stars (out of 5)

 

 

151.  ★★                    The Tale of Genji

152.  ★★★★ ½         The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

153.  ★★★★             Cry, the Beloved Country

154.  ★★★★             Nicholas Nickleby

155   ★★★                 The Stranger
156.  
★★★★             Ragtime
157.  
★★★★             Where the Red Fern Grows

158.  ★★★★             Something Wicked This Way Comes

159.  ★★½                 The House on the Borderlands

160.  ★★★★             The Hound of the Baskervilles



Favorite: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

 

Least Favorite: The Tale of Genji

 

Best Hero: Will’s Dad in Something Wicked This Way Comes

Best Heroine: Helen Graham, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

 

Most Villainous: Ralph Nickleby from Nicholas Nickleby

Runner up: Mr. Dark, from Something Wicked This Way Comes

 

Most interesting/Complex character: Coalhouse Walker Jr. from Ragtime

 

Best Quotation: ‘No man can deliver his brother, nor make agreement unto God for him,’ I replied: ‘it cost more to redeem their souls – it cost the blood of an incarnate God, perfect and sinless in Himself, to redeem us from the bondage of the evil one: – let Him plead for you.’ ~ Helen Graham, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

 

Runner Up: The tragedy is not that things are broken. The tragedy is that they are not mended again. ~ Msimangu in Cry, the Beloved Country

 

Honorable Mention: Three A.M. That’s our reward. Three in the morn. The Soul’s midnight. The tide goes out, the soul ebbs. And a train arrives at an hour of despair…Why? ~ Charles Halloway in Something Wicked This Way Comes


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Friday, September 18, 2020

The Hound of the Baskervilles – a Sherlock Holmes Novel (novel #160)


The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

 

…in a modest way I have combated evil, but to take on the Father of Evil himself would, perhaps, be too ambitious a task. ~ Sherlock Holmes

 

The Hound of the Baskervilles, is one of four Sherlock Holmes adventures long enough to qualify as a novel. Arranged chronologically it is his 20thcase. It is also perhaps, Holmes’ best known adventure.

 

I’ve mentioned before that the greatest pleasure in Holmes' adventures, is not the mystery, but rather the relationship and repartee between Holmes and Watson. That’s a bit lacking in this novel, as the two spend most of the story apart. However, there is still some fun dialogue, such as when Dr. Mortimer, a perspective client, comments on Holmes’ skull:


A cast of your skull, sir, until the original is available, would be an ornament to any anthropological museum. It is not my intention to be fulsome, but I confess that I covet your skull.

 

The case is unusual as it seems to portend a supernatural, or even demonic malign. Holmes, the man of science, is dubious, but unwilling to rule out the fantastic:


Holmes shrugged his shoulders. ‘I have hitherto confined my investigations to this world,’ said he. “in a modest way I have combated evil, but to take on the Father of Evil himself would, perhaps, be too ambitious a task.’

 

The Hound, is no ordinary hound. It is reputed to be of gigantic, impossible proportions, with eyes and breath of fire, and the legendary scourge of the family Baskerville. Legend, until recent developments cast suspicion on the Hell Hound for the death of Sir Charles Baskerville.

 

It is a marvelous mystery, that keeps the reader guessing. At a moment of revelation, Sherlock laughs, causing Watson to observe:


I have not heard him laugh often, and it has always boded ill to somebody.

 

By some standards, this is the best of Sherlock’s adventures. I wouldn’t rate it quite that high, but it was still great fun. 

 

My rating: 4 of 5 stars





I read this for the R.I.P. XV challenge – scary reads for September and October. The challenge also allowed for mysteries, but I thought this Sherlock Holmes story doubly qualified – mystery and spooky.


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Monday, September 14, 2020

The House on the Borderland by William Hope Hodgson (novel #159)

The House on the Borderland by William Hope Hodgson

 

The House on the Borderland is a supernatural horror novel, set in Ireland. It begins in very early 20thCentury when a pair of fishermen, discover a few scant remains of “The House” and a journal. The bulk of the novel then is the journals content, set in probably the very early 19thCentury, told by a recluse who inhabited the house.

 

The unnamed narrator buys the house for a song, owing to its mysterious and sinister legend. He lives with his spinster sister and dog Pepper. Shortly after inhabiting the house he begins to experience bizarre visions – perhaps hallucinations – but eventually, the fantastic manifestations leave unmistakable physical evidence. He is at times, transported through time and space, to the extremes of the cosmos. He encounters the spiritual presence of a long-lost love, and does battle with a herd of intelligent, but clearly malevolent swine-creatures.

 

I was looking forward to this read, as it was quite unknown to me and somewhat obscure to modern readers. I was quite disappointed. It was at times, riveting when I was scared for the narrator’s life, but overall I felt it was just a series of amazing events, leading to an amazing culmination, without a cohesive point. 

 

I give it 2 ½ of 5 stars



 

But don’t take my word for it. Smarter readers I love it, including H. P. Lovecraft and Terry Pratchett. Have you read The House on the Borderland? What did you think?

 

 

I read this for the R.I.P. XV challenge – scary reads for September and October. It also satisfied square I5: Classic Gothic or Horror 2020 Classic Bingo Challenge

 

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Sunday, September 13, 2020

The Fault in Me

The fault in me

 

In Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar, Cassius laments the rise of Caesar and declares:

 

The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves…

 

If you will pardon a minor paraphrase, I confess:

 

The fault, dear friends, is not in our stars, but in ourselves…

and more to the point, in ME.

 

Like Cassius, I lament what is happening in my land. I am distressed by events and sentiments that pervade our country. I recognize a tendency to find fault in the stars, but by “stars” I mean not “fate” but rather, our leaders, celebrities, the rich, famous, powerful…OUR STARS!

 

It is SO easy to blame THEM.

 

But the Holy Spirit convicted me that blaming others is neither right nor effectual. What is MY responsibility; what have I done, or failed to do, that resulted in this state we are in? 

 

1 Timothy 2:1-3 First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior

 

God forgive me; I have not done this. The fault is in me. Oh, I pray now and then for “our leaders” or for President Trump, but if I am honest, I don’t even know the names of my Senators, my Representative, my Governor, my State Legislators. Well, I do now, and I renew a commitment to pray for them regularly by name. I will entreat the LORD to grant them wisdom; I will pray he will give them a hunger for righteousness, and though this will be difficult with some, I will give thanks for them. 

 

2 Chronicles 7:14-15and if My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land. 

 

This verse was given to King Solomon upon completion of The Temple. It is not explicitly given to Christians or the New Testament Church, but I believe the application is valid. It clearly implies there will be days when the land needs healing, and I believe we live in such a day. I profess to be one of God’s people, hence if I want him to heal my land, the first step is to humble myself. 

 

God forgive me for my lack of humility.

 

I have confessed my lack of prayer already, but this is more than just prayer for my leaders, so again God forgive me; the fault is in me.

 

I must seek his face, but I am busy making money, and enjoying family, and my books – all honorable endeavors, but how often do I seek his face? God forgive me.

 

But there’s more. This verse does not say, if I humble myself and pray and seek his face that he will turn my rulers from their wicked ways. It says GOD’S PEOPLE must turn from THEIR wicked ways. 

 

God forgive me for my wicked ways, for my apathy, my critical spirit, my pride, my hypocrisy, my humanism, my materialism, my hedonism.

 

Dear God, hear from Heaven and forgive MY sin for the fault is in ME, and heal my land.

 

Nowhere does God say: if My people will hurl insults at their rulers, and will mock their celebrities, and will forward social media memes, and will constantly complain…  Nowhere!

 

He does say…


Romans 12:18 – If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.

 

God forgive me, and help me to exhibit faith, hope, and love rather than dismay, disgust, and despair.

 

Proverbs 21:1 The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord;

He turns it wherever He wishes.

 

I find great comfort in this. None of what befalls us is outside the providence of God. The healing of our land does not depend upon the ungodly changing their ways – it depends entirely upon God, and he placed the responsibility on HIS PEOPLE to be humble, to pray, to seek him, and to repent.

 

I read not long ago the one commandment Jesus repeated more than any other was…Fear not. Hallelujah and Amen! He said it in a few different ways of course: fear not, do not be afraid, be at peace, let not your heart be troubled, and I’d like to focus on that last one…let not your heart be troubled. It is NOT God’s will that Christians be constantly agitated…it simply is not. If that is the testimony I have to offer the world…it isn’t much to offer.

 

God forgive me, and teach me to be light and salt to a dark and dying world.

 

2 Timothy 1:7 For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.


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Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury (novel #158)

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury



Three A.M. That’s our reward. Three in the morn. The Soul’s midnight. The tide goes out, the soul ebbs. And a train arrives at an hour of despair…Why?

 

You might guess from the title, Something Wicked This Way Comes is a horror story. Some have called it dark fantasy, but nah…I think it’s horror. I read this once before, when I was 13, the age of the two protagonists, growing up in mid-America as they were, in the 60s, and 70s as they did. Very likely, all this empathy caused me to share their terror. I didn’t remember much of this story, but I remembered that it terrified me.

 

In a wonderful way.

 

The story opens on a lazy autumn afternoon, a week before Halloween, a week before inseparable friends Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade turn 14.


And that was the October week when they grew up overnight, and were never so young anymore.

 

Will was born a minute before midnight, October 31, Jim a minute after.

 

But it is at 3 A.M – the soul’s midnight – on October 23rd, nearly 14 years later when Jim and Will are beckoned by a train whistle. We’ve all heard that romantic, far off train in the night…


Yet this train’s whistle! The wails of a lifetime where gathered in it from the other nights in other slumbering years; the howl of moon-dreamed dogs, the seep of river-cold winds through January porch screens which stopped the blood, a thousand fire sirens weeping, or worse! the outgone shreds of breath, the protests of a billion people dead or dying, not wanting to be dead, their groans, their sighs, burst over the earth!

 

Unable to resist the call, Will and Jim climb out their windows to investigate the arrival of Coogar and Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show.

 

It is subtly terrifying. I’m not frightened by grotesque monsters. It is those things supposed to be harmless: a clown – but just a little off, an old woman, appearing kindly and gentle – but perhaps a witch, or in this case, a carnival that should be wondrous – but which comes at an odd time, in the wrong season, that terrify me in a quiet unspeakable way, with their secret malevolence.

 

Even the title is subtle. It is taken from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, a line uttered by the Weird Sisters (never expressly called witches in the play)

          By the pricking of my thumbs,
          Something wicked this way comes. 

 

Besides his wonderful, subtle, terrifying words, I love Bradbury’s writing. It is romantic, poetically descriptive, mysteriously vague, brief and poignant. Such as Will’s dad, Charles Halloway, observing the boys chasing the wind in the innocence of youth…


He knew what the wind was doing to them, where it was taking them, to all the secret places that were never so secret again in life.

 

I particularly love the allusion in this next line when Charles, who works in the library, marks his son, perusing its wonders…


So, looking back down the corridor, was Dad shocked to see he owned a son who visited this separate 20,000-fathoms-deep world?

 

Or this…Chapter 31 quoted in its entirety: 


Nothing much else happened, all the rest of that night.

 

Or one last excerpt, that I cannot put in context without a spoiler, but the context is not necessary to enjoy the beauty of the words describing father and son in a moment of playfulness:


He got half over Dad when they fell, rolled in the grass, all hoot-owl and donkey, all brass and cymbal as it must have been the first year of Creation, and Joy not yet thrown from the Garden.

 

And besides all this, I think there are powerful truths tucked away in the pages of this fantasy. “Be careful what you wish for” is one, but more importantly, the sometimes-fine line between evil and good. Every evil that has been invented is a perversion of some good gift of the creator; every desire in the heart of man has a righteous venue, and an indulgent aberration. I think Bradbury was warning us that evil ones will tempt us with subtle lies, just as when Joy was thrown from the garden.

 

I give it 4 of 5 stars


 

I read this for the R.I.P. XV challenge – scary reads for September and October.

 

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Saturday, September 5, 2020

Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls (novel #157)

Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls

 

This was what I had prayed for, worked for, sweated for, my own little hounds bawling on the trail of a river coon.

 

Where the Red Fern Grows is the tale of Billy Colman and his obsession to first acquire a pair of hunting dogs, and then his love for his dogs and their passion for the hunt.

 

It begins when adult Billy rescues a stray redbone coonhound, which causes him to reminisce about Little Ann and Old Dan. Growing up in the Ozarks of Oklahoma, Billy longs for a pair of hunting dogs, but this is nearly impossible due to the poverty of his family. At night, he agonizes as he listens to coon dogs bawling on the hunt…

I’m sure if that coon hunter had known that he was slowly killing a ten-year-old boy, he would have put a muzzle on his hound.


But with the sincere and innocent prayers of a child, determination, hard work, and a little help from his grandpa, Billy raises the money he needs to mail order a pair of young hounds. After months of training, on the night of his first hunt, the dogs, Little Ann and Old Dan, scent a coon and the hunt is on…

This was what I had prayed for, worked for, sweated for, my own little hounds bawling on the trail of a river coon. I don’t know why I cried, but I did. While the tears rolled, I whooped again and again.


That first hunt nearly ends in failure as the dogs do their job by treeing the coon in a huge sycamore that will take days for Billy to cut down, in order for the dogs to finish the hunt. When Billy is nearly spent, ready to admit defeat, he says another prayer and a mighty wind finishes the job.

Before I left for home, I walked back to the sycamore tree. Once again, I said a prayer, but this time the words were different. I didn’t ask for a miracle. In every way a young boy could, I said “thanks.” My second prayer wasn’t just said with just words. All of my heart and soul was in it.


There are many more coon hunts. Billy and his dogs become a local legend, and eventually enter a national coon hunting contest.

No finer coon hounds could be found anywhere. They came from the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, the bayou country of Louisiana, the Red River bottoms of Texas, and the flinty hills of the Ozarks.


I’ll spare the rest. You may hear this described as a coming of age tale, or a tale of the bond between a boy and his dogs. It is certainly both, but I believe it is something more. It is a tale of faith, of the shaking of a young boy’s faith, and how he comes through the other side.

 

If you are opposed to hunting, or squeamish, this book may not be for you. It was reminiscent of my own youth, when I would hunt, often just me and my beagle Duchess. It was rabbits for us, but I could still feel Billy’s joy when he was on the hunt with his dogs.

 

I give it 4 of 5 stars




 

This novel satisfies square O3, Book published the year I was born, 1961 in the 2020 Classic Bingo Challenge and 20th Century Classic in the Back to the Classics Challenge 2020

 


 

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Friday, September 4, 2020

Thousand Words

Occasionally I take a short detour from the standard bookish content of this blog. (That’s foreshadowing; I’m about to take such a detour.)

 

Ordinarily, the Kentucky Derby is the first Saturday in May, but in this mixed-up, COVID 19, 2020, it was postponed until this, the first Saturday in September.

 

The Kentucky Derby is known as “The most exciting two minutes in Sports” which is a bit of a misnomer. Three horses have run the race in less than two minutes, and one of them didn’t even win. In 1973, the great Secretariat set the standing record of 1:59.4, just ahead of Sham who was also under two minutes. In 2001, Monarchos finished at 1:59.97.

 

Before I get to this year’s Derby, I want to talk about the Kentucky Oaks – the ladies’ (fillies) version of the Kentucky Derby. Fillies can run in the Derby, but usually don’t. Only three fillies have won the Derby: Winning Colors, Genuine Risk, and Regret. This year, the filly Swiss Skydiver qualified for the Derby, but her owner and trainer opted for the Oaks, which is run the day before the Derby. The Kentucky Oaks is for three-year-old fillies (filly is a female 3 and under, at age 4 they are fully mature and are known as mares). The Oaks will probably come down to a two-horse race between Swiss Skydiver and Gamine. I expect Gamine to jump to the early lead, but Swiss Skydiver will be content to stay close behind, saving her speed for the end, when she pulls ahead in the homestretch for the win.

 

The Kentucky Derby doesn’t look like much of a contest. Tiz the Law will be the heavy favorite. If he wins, the talk of Triple Crown will begin. Tiz the Law already won the Belmont Stakes, and will then have to win the Preakness to claim the Triple Crown. The only horses that seem to have any chance against Tiz the Law are Honour A.P. and Authentic. Coincidentally, these three have post positions 16, 17, and 18, out of 18. This far outside positions mean they have a bit more ground to cover, but they also have a clear shot to the lead. They have slightly different styles. Honor A.P. likes to stay off the lead and close late. Authentic likes to take the lead from the very start, whereas Tiz the Law, stays off the pace for the first half, then takes the lead to pull away from the field the second half. I think it’s Tiz the Law’s race. However, there’s no money in picking the favorite. There is a long shot I like: Thousand Words (love the name), son of Pioneer of the Nile, grandson of Empire Maker, best trainer in the business Bob Baffert, and very capable jockey Geroux Flourent. With the exception of one bad showing a couple races ago, he has been improving each time out. I still doubt he can catch Tiz the Law, but the favorite usually doesn’t win the Derby, so I’m gonna take a chance on Thousand Words.

 

And since Thousand Words is worth a picture, here he is winning the Robert B. Lewis Stakes in February.



 

And to keep to the bookish topic of this blog, there is a poetry to thoroughbred racing. Consider these splendid names: Swiss Skydiver, Tempers Rising, Dream Marie (Oaks); and Finnick the Fierce, Storm the Court, Thousand Words, Winning Impression (Derby)

 

For all time beautiful names there are: Unbridled’s Song, Distorted Humor, Quality Road, Winning Colors….and the BEST EVER Sunday Silence.

 

Riders up!