More Bingeing

Witch by Barbara Michaels

Grade: B+

A middle-aged woman’s children have grown up and left the nest, so she goes looking for her dream house, and finds one in nowheresville Virginia. Sure enough, that house is haunted. But it’s not the dead that she needs to worry about. The living are far more dangerous.

Witch is not as dated as Ammie, Come Home. Some things about it still feel relevant. The main character finds herself at odds with some of her neighbors, who follow a rather nasty version of Christianity. She’s shocked by how conservative, bigoted, and sexist their beliefs are. She doesn’t realize how bad it is until she visits their church one Sunday. The hate-filled sermon is too much for her.

[She] had no desire to offend anyone, but she would not condone such trash by sitting still and listening to it. Quietly she rose and walked out of the church. . . . Oddly shaken, she sat in the car for a few minutes to recover her composure. She was disturbed, not so much by the encounter with a mind both violent and irrational, but by the realization that her safe, sane world was only one of many worlds. She had labored under the absurd but widespread delusion that the attitudes of her circle were those of the majority of humanity. For years she had lived in a world of superficial tolerance and good breeding. It had its faults; hypocrisy was one, certainly, and another was a kind of cynical indifference to the absolutes of both good and evil. But it was a stable world in its mediocrity and its studied pretenses. It was predictable. Surely she had been naive, though, to think of it as the normal world. In the strange universe she had glimpsed today, anything was possible.

I’ve had to come to a similar realization lately. There is a whole other world out there where people think differently than I do. It’s not a pleasant realization, and it comes with an equally unpleasant sense of powerless. But it makes me feel a little better to read about someone experiencing the same thing. Though I gave the same grade to Witch as I’ve been giving to most of the books in this binge, it is my favorite so far.

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I, Driver

I saw some car-related questions in an “Interesting Facts About Me” quiz that was making the rounds on Facebook, and I thought I’d answer them here. I’m not sure these are particularly interesting facts about me. It’s just that cars are very much on my mind these days.

  1. Can you parallel park? In a pinch. I learned how to in preparation for my driver’s test. Though I ultimately didn’t have to show off my skill for the test, I have used it several times since. I’m fairly good at it. I’d just rather avoid it.
  2. Can you drive stick? Sort of. While I was in college, my friend drove to Boston to pick me up so that we could hang out for the weekend. She was too tired to drive us back to Connecticut, and she insisted that I drive. I wasn’t too keen on the idea. Her truck had a manual transmission, and I’d only ever driven automatics. She reasoned that since most of the trip would take place on the highway, all I would have to do was get the truck up to highway speed, and then it would be smooth sailing. It was terrifying to be cruising down the entrance ramp of the highway and not knowing if I’d be able to get the truck into gear. I did it, though. So if all you need me to do is get up to highway speed, then sure, I can drive stick.
  3. What is your dream car? One that works! My car is broken, and I’m going stir-crazy! Any working car (with an automatic transmission) would seem pretty good to me right now.
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Reading Binge

I’m on a Barbara Michaels binge. As I joked with my husband, one could get the impression that Barbara Michaels’s stories are all the same. First, a woman moves into an old house, typically in the D.C. area. The house is haunted by one or more ghosts. There is probably a moldy, nasty basement with a blocked-off section, but if not, then an attic with a hidden nook. There is likely to be a mysterious cat. Don’t be surprised if a seance takes place. Somebody will probably find and use old clothing or linens, and somebody will do some research. There’s usually some sort of digging involved, and references to archaeology. Oh, and of course, people fall in love.

That formula holds true for many of her novels (though not all). It makes sense given that she was a cat person and had a degree in Egyptology. Her style was intentionally Gothic, and can you even have a Gothic romance without an old house? But though many of the books have shared elements, they each have their own tone and often seem more different than alike.

The first book of my binge was Shattered Silk, an old favorite of mine. I don’t need to review it here, having done so back in 2010. Shattered Silk is now considered to be the first book in the “Georgetown trilogy.” Having never read the first book of the trilogy, it made sense to move on to that one next.

Ammie, Come Home by Barbara Michaels, Grade: B+

In Ammie, Come Home, we first meet the characters Ruth (a 40-something widow who has recently inherited a house in the historic Georgetown neighborhood of D.C.), and Pat (a big, loud professor whose mother is a notable socialite), and Sara (Ruth’s niece, a student who has come to live with her aunt). There was also a love interest for Sara, though I’ve forgotten his name. Ruth’s house turns out to be haunted, and not in a good way. To give the book its due, parts of this story really creeped me out, but the atmosphere was claustrophobic and the action repetitive. The characters kept going back to the house over and over again, even though the evil presence kept showing up and harassing them. The characters and their dialogue are very much products of their time, and they seem dated now. I’m glad to have read this book, but I doubt I’ll ever pick it up again. One last item of potential interest: this book was made into a TV movie called The House That Would Not Die starring Barbara Stanwyck.

After Ammie, Come Home, I moved onto Witch, the review of which will be posted soon.

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The Journey and the Destination

Last night I was reading a romantic suspense novel. The main female character was dating a male character who I couldn’t stand. I suspected that he would turn out to be the bad guy. I didn’t care one way or another. What worried me was that she might fall in love with him, or start a long-term relationship with him. I didn’t want to read that story, so I flipped to the end of the book and read the last few pages, just to be sure that it wasn’t.

I do that often. Any time the plot of a story threatens to go in a direction I don’t want, I look at the ending. I don’t want to waste my time reading books that will piss me off. I’d rather know the ending so that I can bail, if necessary, before I get too invested. Knowing the ending rarely seems to affect my enjoyment of the story. I can still enjoy the journey even though I know the destination.

Do you ever skip to the end of a book to make sure you’re going to like the ending?

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Reading in 2017

I started keeping track of my reading when I began my blog in 2007. Between then and the end of 2017, I read 498 books. I had hoped to read two more before the new year, just to even out the number, but that didn’t happen. However, my delay in finishing this post has helped me out. I read two books this year already, so now I can say that I’ve read 500 books since starting my blog. And though my numbers were low during some years, the average works out to 45 per year, which is not far off my goal of 52 per year.

As for 2017, I started off the year poorly by forcing myself through a history/travel book that I wasn’t quite in the mood for. I just wanted it done. I got it done, but it took a long time, and it burned me out. It wasn’t the kind of reading that I needed at a time when everything was stressing me out. I did eventually get back in the mood to read, though, and I ultimately finished 27 books (well, 26 books. I read one twice.).

Favorite Book Read in 2017: The Last Legends of Earth by A.A. Attanasio. This is one of my favorite books ever. I read it twice this year. It has its flaws, to be sure, but I love it for its inventiveness and its eerie atmosphere. Also, the author managed to squeeze thousands of years of story line into less than 500 pages, which is amazing. I was hoping to absorb some of the book’s power and bring it to my novel. I think the absorbing part worked. All I have to do now is write the novel.

Worst Book Read in 2017: The Bobbsey Twins on a Ranch by Laura Lee Hope, hands-down. It was outdated in all the worst ways, and it’s the most racist book I’ve ever read.

Biggest Reading Surprise in 2017: Several of the books were surprisingly good, including…

Biggest Reading Accomplishment of 2017: About a quarter of the books I read in 2017 were nonfiction. This is the highest percentage of non-fiction I’ve ever read in any given year.

Reading Goals for 2018: None. I have no reading goals. I’m giving myself a break. No rules, no expectation. I’m going to scratch any reading itch I get. To start off the year, I’ve ordered a bunch of Barbara Michaels books from the library. I can’t wait to get started on them.

Wishing everyone a wonderful year of reading in 2018,

Chick

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Better Today

My eye feels much better today. It’s still a little gunky and itchy, but it’s no longer red and swollen. I’m going to attribute that to the Healing Soup (a.k.a. chicken pho) that I had for dinner last night. Hooray for Healing Soup!

I accomplished a lot this weekend, too. Most importantly, I put my ornaments into their new boxes while listening to Christmas music, so that’s two things crossed off my list from yesterday. I don’t like putting Christmas ornaments away (who does?), but the music helped to lighten my mood. As expected, I changed my mind about how to wrap the ornaments about halfway through, so some are wrapped better than others. I didn’t have enough paper to wrap every ornament, so I reused old bubble wrap for the glass ornaments. Some of the bubble wrap is so old that it looks grubby, but it has done such a good job protecting the ornaments all these years, I figure why not let it keep doing that? Plus it was the environmentally conscientious thing to do. I was already throwing away so much old packing material. It made me feel better to salvage some of it.

Between feeling better physically and having gotten such a big task done, I’m in a more positive frame of mind than I was at the start of the weekend. I hope you all had a good weekend, too!

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For January

We’re twenty days into the new year and I haven’t finished everything I wanted to do for 2017. That’s not good. I don’t want to spend all year playing catch-up. So . . .

To finish by January 31:

  1. Put my Christmas butterfly ornaments away in the new acid-free boxes that I bought last January. The ornaments were supposed to go in the boxes last year, but that never happened. At this time, the ornaments are off the tree but not put away, so this is the perfect time to make the switch to the new boxes. I can tell you exactly what’s been holding me up. The ornaments will need to be wrapped in protective material before I put them in the boxes. I bought acid-free tissue paper, but I will need to figure out the best way to cut it, then wrap all the ornaments, and figure out the best arrangement in the boxes. Figuring out this new storage system will take time and effort, and I might make mistakes and have to change direction, maybe even order more paper or a different kind, which is all potentially going to be annoying. (Yes, I do have a terrible habit of fretting over problems before I even get to them.) But if I want to keep my ornaments in good condition, this is what needs to be done, so I’d better get on it.
  2. Listen to the Christmas CD my friend gave me. My Christmas spirit is always a little slow catching up with the season, and I often have no tolerance for Christmas music until January. But the month is almost over, so I should do that now, while I’m still feeling a little Christmassy and doing Christmassy things like putting ornaments away.
  3. Finish up 2017 photo album. I can’t believe I haven’t finished this yet.
  4. Finish up 2017 blog posts. I still have a bunch of posts about the children that I want to write so that I can include them in my album. I wish I had kept better notes along the way. Some of my notes are cryptic. For example: “Marshall’s perfect grades.” Perfect grades on what and when? I have no idea. So that story, whatever it was, is never going to be told. I need to finish up what I do remember, while I still remember it, and while it still feels relevant.
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Off to a Poor Start

I woke up this morning with pinkeye. I knew it before I even got out of bed. My eye felt like a gummy bear had used it as a restroom. That’s no way to start the weekend.

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Movies and Books

People love to talk about movies that are poor adaptations of beloved books. But there are many times when the movies, good or bad, lead us to read the books that they were based on. That’s a good thing. And let’s be honest—sometimes the book isn’t as good as the movie!

Here is a list of books that I read because of their movies.

  1. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery. I might have ended up reading this anyway, because it is a favorite of one of my dearest friends, but I was also influenced by seeing parts of the mini-series on PBS.
  2. Austenland by Shannon Hale. I went on to read the sequel, Midnight in Austenland.
  3. Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding, plus the sequel, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, which was also made into a movie.
  4. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. The film adaptation starring Gene Wilder (Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory) is a favorite movie, and it definitely got me interested in Roald Dahl’s work.
  5. Dune by Frank Herbert
  6. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. I only read the book because I heard that it was being made into a movie.
  7. Evil Under the Sun by Agatha Christie. There were several factors that contributed to my becoming an Agatha Christie fan, and this movie, which I saw many time as a kid, is definitely one of them.
  8. The Ghost and Mrs. Muir by R.A. Dick. I was so in love with the movie that I tried hard to keep my expectations low when reading the book. The book surprised me by also being good.
  9. Gremlins by George Gipe. This is a rare case of the book being based on the movie, rather than the other way around.
  10. Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
  11. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, plus both sequels.
  12. The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle. I went on to read at least one other book by the same author.
  13. Millennium by John Varley
  14. The Neverending Story by Michel Ende. I also read Momo by the same author, who I never would have heard of if it hadn’t been for this movie.
  15. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens. I still occasionally get songs from Oliver! stuck in my head.
  16. Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boulle. The movie was much better than the book!
  17. The Princess Bride by William Goldman
  18. The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot. I went on to read many of the sequels.
  19. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
  20. The Shining by Stephen King
  21. Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
  22. The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss
  23. Watership Down by Richard Adams. I went on to read Tales from Watership Down.
  24. The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum. I haven’t read any of the sequels yet, but they’re all on my Kindle, so I probably will someday.

Are there any books that you read because the movies piqued your interest?

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Days Like This

Some days I wonder if I am anything more than a collection of bad habits.

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