Cloaked - Little Red Riding Hood in the Wild West

Little red riding hood
(Not the real cover.)  You can check out
the cover art and pre-order the book here!
Little Red Riding Hood meets classic Western - what a cool idea!  I was excited to read Cloaked, because I love LRRH, and fairy tales and Westerns are two of the best storytelling genres out there.  Since LRRH already has some Western elements (woods and wolves!), I was curious how the two would merge in this retelling.

The story begins with Mary Rose O'Brien boarding a stagecoach to visit her grandmother.  Mary Rose is extremely nervous because she's never met her grandma Jubilee before, yet her parents are hoping that, by making a good impression, she will mend the long rift between Mary Rose's father and Jubilee.  To make matters worse, her traveling companions are a rough-looking laborer and an over-friendly bookkeeper, and she is not sure she can trust either of them.  Mary Rose is hoping for some adventures at her grandma's Wyoming ranch, but when she arrives, she has no idea just how exciting life there will be.

Right off the bat, the narrative pulled me in with its concise, descriptive writing and easy tone.  It felt almost like watching an episode of The Virginian (my favorite classic Western show).  The light humor was enjoyable, and Mary Rose is a likeable heroine from "back East."  She's kind of the quintessential Awkward Girl, but she's no Mary Sue, either, as she has to strive to fit in at a new place and win Jubilee over.  I liked the back-story Kovaciny created for the two of them; it gave LRRH an additional obstacle to overcome, while their friendship was just a given in the original tale.

Though Mary Rose is a well-rounded character, I would have liked to see more character development for Linden and Small, instead of having to take them as "bad guy" and "good guy" at face value.  Also, there was more romance in the story than I was expecting, and as it went on, I wasn't sure if I was really the intended audience.  (Nothing against romance, I'm just more into adventure plots.)  On the plus side, it challenged Mary Rose to be brave and stand up for herself.  This would be an excellent read for young girls, with a message of following your intuition and trusting to God instead of Prince Charming.

Overall, I enjoyed Cloaked and would recommend it to anyone 10+ looking for a fun, romantic Western tale.  This is the first book in the author's Once Upon a Western series, and I look forward to reading more!

I received a free advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.

Top Ten Books for Fall

After a long, hot, dry, allergy-stricken, wildfire smoke-infused summer, we are finally getting rain again, and I love it.  Today I actually wore my thick cable-knit sweater, and my raincoat has seen a couple of outings, too.

Fall means pumpkin-flavored treats, but (as importantly) it also brings cozy moments reading a book while listening to the rain or sitting by the fire.  These are the top ten books I hope to read this fall - that is, if I can make it to ten!

1.  The Wonderful Wizard of Oz - L. Frank Baum
Maybe no other book screams "autumn" like this one.  It's a re-read; I haven't read it since childhood.  The movie is one of my all-time favorites!

2.  Cloaked - Rachel Kovaciny
I was lucky enough to get an advanced reader copy of a new book by Hamlette, who blogs at The Edge of the Precipice.  So far I'm heartily enjoying it!


3.  Hero: The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia - Michael Korda
This is a long biography which I must finish by the end of the year and return to the coworker who is kindly lending it to me.  So far I am finding some interesting tidbits in it, though I am not super impressed with Korda as a biographer.

4.  The Sound and the Fury, or Light in August - William Faulkner
These are two Faulkners I picked up at the thrift store, and I've heard good things about both of them.  Any suggestion as to which I should read first?

5.  Frankenstein - Mary Shelley
I must read this book.  I must, I must.

Hugues Merle - The Scarlet Letter - Walters 37172
6.  The Scarlet Letter - Nathaniel Hawthorne
Ditto.  Am I the only one who strongly associates this book with fall?  I guess it's because it takes place in New England, and New England is gorgeous in autumn.  :)

7.  Crusader Castles - T. E. Lawrence
An upcoming commemoration of a certain person's birth might justify the purchase of this rare book by T. E. Lawrence... *innocent cough*

8. - 10.  If I somehow manage to complete the above, we can talk about 8 - 10!

Tolkien Blog Party 2017 - Tag!

With Hobbit Day (Sep 22nd) rapidly approaching, I was excited to see that Hamlette is again hosting a Tolkien Blog Party this year!  This will be my first time participating.  Though I haven't often mentioned J. R. R. Tolkien here, I am a huge fan of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.  There is so much to unpack in Tolkien's universe of Middle Earth, and I find I discover something new every time.

The Tolkien Tag 2017

1. How long have you been a Tolkien fan?
Oh wow... it must be something like 9 or 10 years ago now!  I played violin in a community orchestra, and we were learning music from The Two Towers.  The conductor, Mr. D., tried to select a wide variety of music, including film scores from newer movies like LOTR and Pirates of the Caribbean.  I am forever indebted to his open-mindedness, because some of the other musicians were not too keen on Rohan's theme or the March of the Ents.  ;)  For me, it was a turning point.

I had heard of LOTR but knew basically nothing about it.  Inspired by our music, I picked up this one-volume book at the thrift store and embarked on a multi-month adventure, watching each film after reading each book (to my poor parents' suspense!!).  Though the books were difficult for me, it was an incredible experience as a whole.  To this day, The Fellowship of the Ring is my favorite film, because seeing it all come to life on the screen was that light-bulb moment, when you realize you've discovered something beautiful and unique. 

2. Has your love of Middle-earth affected your life?
Yes, absolutely.  These are just few of the ways:
  • Community - The Lord of the Rings is one of my few mainstream fandoms (along with Star Trek).  LOTR was the first time I felt a big connection with other people over a book/film.  I eagerly anticipated the Hobbit trilogy as well, and - from the pre-production news to the final release at the theater - followed the excitement with family members, coworkers, and others online.  I think the story, themes, characters, and setting make the War of the Ring a universal tale almost everyone can relate to.
  • Poetry - I did not much like poetry before reading LOTR.  During that time, however, I came to love it and appreciate the part it played in the story.  One of my favorite poems is "The Sea-Bell."  Tolkien led me to poetry, and I've since read and written a lot of's become an important thing in my life.
  • Sewing - Watching LOTR reminded me how much I love costumes!  I had fun sewing hobbit, elf, and Gondorian clothes some years ago.  Sadly, I only have a few pictures of those projects left.

3. If you had to take the One Ring to Mordor, which character would you choose for your sole companion?
Well, I think Tolkien proved that Sam is the best choice.  :)  However, if I didn't know that already, then I'd have to say either:
  • Gandalf.  He knows the way, he knows the languages, and he has superpowers!  (Oh, and he has The Hobbit on his resume.)
  • Elrond.  I always felt Elrond should've volunteered.

4. Which is scarier, Shelob or the Balrog?
The Balrog is extremely terrifying, but I think I could face it.  I don't think I could fight Shelob - the sight of her would make me faint.

5. Which two towers do you think Tolkien was referring to in the title The Two Towers?  (i.e. Orthanc, Barad-dûr, Cirith Ungol, Minas Morgul, or Minas Tirith)
Barad-dûr, for sure.  The movie implies Orthanc is the second one, but when I was reading the book, I felt like it was one of the other ones.  I'm going to say Minas Tirith for the second Tower.

6. Whose wardrobe would you like to have?
I would say Eowyn, except I don't care for billowy sleeves.  So I'd have to say Thranduil, king of woodland elves and woodland fashion.

7. What do you think an Ent Draught would taste like?
A delicious iced tea.

8. Where in Middle-earth would you like to live?
Always the Shire.  What can I say...I like being safe and snug and cozy!

9. Do you have any Tolkien-related opinions that surprise other people?
I think Viggo Mortensen was miscast as Aragorn.  *ducks tomatoes*

10. List up to ten of your favorite lines/quotations from the books or movies.
"Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends." (Gandalf)


“I wish it need not have happened in my time," said Frodo.
"So do I," said Gandalf, "and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”


BOROMIR:  My father is a noble man, but his rule is failing, and our people lose faith. He looks to me to make things right and I would do it. I would see the glory of Gondor restored. Have you ever seen it, Aragorn? The White Tower of Ecthelion, glimmering like a spike of pearl and silver, its banners caught high in the morning breeze. Have you ever been called home by the clear ringing of silver trumpets?
ARAGORN:  I have seen the White City, long ago.
BOROMIR:  One day, our paths will lead us there. And the tower guard shall take up the call: "The Lords of Gondor have returned."


THEODEN: Where is the horse and the rider? Where is the horn that was blowing? They have passed like rain on the mountain, like wind in the meadow. The days have gone down in the West behind the hills into shadow. How did it come to this?


I'm afraid most of my favorite quotes are the mournful ones...however, nobody writes sad stuff as well as Tolkien.

That was a fun tag.  Thanks to Hamlette for putting this together!

Reading Lessons Learned - 2017

Usually I would save this type of post for late December.  However, more and more I'm convinced that if you need to recap something in your life or change the way you do something, there's no reason to wait for the end of the year.  As the saying goes - why save for tomorrow what you can do today?  ;)

Now, that's not to say that I won't come to any more "revelations" during the rest of this year.  I just wanted to share some things that have been on my mind lately - lessons learned, if you will - not about books specifically, but about reading itself: as a process, a journey, and a joy.

Alpine view

Finding Axes
In my second podcast episode, "Ice and Axes - What Makes a Favorite?", I talked about Kafka's recommendation to read a book that is "an axe for the frozen sea within [you]."  It really made a lot of sense, so I abandoned my "favorites" list and resolved to start evaluating books in this new light.  When I read now, I see if a book a) gives me a new idea, b) makes me think about an old idea in a new way, or c) changes my life in some way.  This is how I personally define an "axe" book.

I've added a new page on my blog called "Axes," where you can find some of those titles.  :)  I'm particularly happy that it catches some of those reads that, while not fitting the "favorite" label, are worthwhile nonetheless.

Challenges Aren't My Cup of Tea
Except for very short read-alongs, no more challenges for me (*sigh*).

I had moderate success with my 2016 reading challenges, and it was my plan to do the same this year.  I came up with an ambitious Russian Lit reading list, a pile of books for Mount TBR, and even my own, comprehensive Sherlock Holmes re-reading spree.

There was nothing stopping me from fulfilling these challenges, except a distinct lack of determination.  I felt bad, because I was definitely reading - in fact, surpassing my 15-book Goodreads goal - but I wasn't committed to the challenges.  Strangely, very few of those books sounded appealing this year.

What I realized from this (or rather, finally admitted) is that spontaneity is key to my reading enjoyment.  If I am an armchair traveler, then I like my travels to be real adventures.  I don't like to plan out in detail where I'm going next.  Also, it is hard to predict when is the "right time" to read a particular book.  I've had more success just picking up the book that sounds interesting at a given time.

Pair Long Books with Quick Books...

The title is self-explanatory.  You would've thought I'd learned this long ago.  (I thought I did.)

Up till the recent past, I have tried to read a fiction book and a nonfiction book at the same time, assuming the fiction book would be a quick read and the nonfiction book could be a six-month project.  I've finally realized that some memoirs can be read in a day or two, while some apparently "short" novels can take me forever to finish.  Now I will try to be smarter about my "book pairings."

...and Stick to Two at a Time

I love starting a new book, too much so.  This year it's become painfully clear that reading more than two simultaneously is overwhelming.  I'm still downsizing my Currently Reading list and plan not to get in this predicament again!

Read More, Share More

This summer I surmounted my fears and launched a podcast, Classics Considered.  It was meant to be an experiment, so though it's fizzled out a little, I'm not concerned, nor is it completely abandoned.  The point of trying it was to figure out, is podcasting the next step?  Is there value in audio reviews?  Do I enjoy it, and if so, is it in addition to or instead of blogging?

Speaking into a microphone, and to an audience of the world wide web, is very tough.  Maybe I shouldn't be surprised that recording just six episodes turned me into a more confident speaker at my day job, enabling me to give presentations without nearly as much anxiety as I had before.  This wasn't the original goal, but it was a life-changing bonus.

As for the podcast itself, I don't particularly like hearing myself speak, but I do love the content and sharing it in a casual, verbal format.  On the other hand, writing comes much more naturally, and it's far less time consuming than preparing, recording, and editing an audio track.  I also regret the dearth of quality posts on Noonlight Reads this year.

The long and short of it is - I now have two viable ways to share classic literature, and I really want to keep both without sacrificing quantity or quality.  On a side note, I have also started writing more Goodreads reviews, and my Instagram...well, it exists.  ;)  I may start a YouTube channel, being a daily YouTube user as well.

Sharing more thoughts, more frequently, is an ongoing goal.  It's terribly overwhelming, but somehow, someday, I'll find the right balance among the umpteen social media platforms.  For now, I just need to be more consistent and keep sharing as often as possible.

Let me know - what are your reading takeaways from this year?

The Cruise of the Snark - Jack London and his trip across the Pacific

StateLibQld 1 165259 Snark (ship)
The Snark, named after Lewis Carroll's poem "The Hunting of the Snark"

Jack London's squall-infused, sickness-filled, Snark-y voyage is a sailing classic and product of its time, for better and worse. Compare his tongue-in-cheek narrative with his very real sufferings, his sympathetic view of Molokai versus his feelings of white superiority, or his socialist convictions with his celebrity lifestyle, and you'll find a fully flawed, yet vivid memoir with plenty of takeaways. I would have liked to hear more about his small crew, which is why Penguin was smart to include some excerpts from Martin and Charmian in the back. Overall, an educational adventure into the South Pacific of the early twentieth century.

Jack and Charmian London in Hawaii (PP-75-4-018)
Jack London and Charmian in Hawaii

Jack London the building of The Snark 1906
Jack London at the building of the Snark

Angst and yawns in Ishiguro's Nocturnes

Proper Bow Placement I bet someone's said it before, so I'm repeating it now - this one's a snooze...

Don't get me wrong. I really enjoyed The Remains of the Day, and An Artist of the Floating World is one of my all-time favorite novels. I appreciate Ishiguro's writing in its most subtle and emotive form, which is what I came to expect from those two books.

Like The Buried Giant, however, Nocturnes ended up disappointing high hopes. This collection is subtitled "Five Stories of Music and Nightfall," yet the first three stories are really rehashes of the same plot, which is more about marital discord (no pun intended) than making music. The best of these three (though admittedly the most dismal) is "Malvern Hills," a peek in the life of two folk musicians and their joys and sorrows. As for the last two stories, though the relationship problems took the backseat, the main storylines were not all that intriguing and rather anticlimactic.

Side note: there is quite a bit of profanity and f-bombs, so be warned. It reads strangely in the middle of Ishiguro's elegant prose, and sometimes came across as a bit forced. It seemed like he was trying to represent modern dialogue but relying too much on cussing to achieve the effect.