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Portable Magic

Reading, for me, is entertainment and an escape from the real world. But it can also inform and stretch the boundaries of the life I live.

Currently reading

The Hidden Staircase
Carolyn Keene
Progress: 63/128 pages
The Mayor of Casterbridge
Thomas Hardy
Progress: 89 %
Flowers for Algernon
Daniel Keyes
Progress: 289/311 pages

The Mayor of Casterbridge - progress 89%

The Mayor of Casterbridge - Thomas Hardy

He cursed himself like a less scrupulous Job, as a vehement man will do when he loses self-respect, the last mental prop under poverty. 


The Secret of the Old Clock – ND1.7

The Secret of the Old Clock - Russell H. Tandy, Sara Paretsky, Carolyn Keene The Secret of the Old Clock - Carolyn Keene

Nancy Drew Project continued: Reading the 1930 & 1959 versions of The Secret of The Old Clock simultaneously, comparing differences in the story and characters, and pondering dated plot points. Spoilers: full plot description below.


1930 (Ch18-20) vs. 1959 (Ch 14-15)


After Nancy and Jeff Tucker tell their stories to the town marshal, Nancy leads the police on a chase to catch the robbers, having seen and recognized their tire marks in the dirt on the way back. When the road forks, Nancy and the police separate, with Nancy promising to notify police if she sees the criminals along the road. 1930 Nancy is definitely a speed demon, opening the throttle wide enough to worry Jeff Tucker and several times having to wait on the police after having left them behind, eating her little roadster’s dust. 1959 Nancy is less of a daredevil (or lawbreaker), keeping pace with the police.


1930 Nancy spots the robbers having a “drinking orgy” at a sleazy roadhouse, and breaks into their truck to find Josiah Crowley’s clock. 1959 Nancy spots the robbers “eating voraciously” in a rundown inn, and breaks into their truck to find Josiah Crowley’s clock. In both books, thrilling moments ensue as Nancy just barely hides herself before the ruffians return, once again behaving like Tolkien’s quarrelsome trolls. Nancy takes the clock apart and finds a notebook belonging to Josiah Crowley.


Noteworthy – Jeff Tucker’s character cleanup continues in this chapter. The 1930 verbal exchange between them would be cute, if it weren’t for the racist stereotyping. As Nancy burns up the road into town, Jeff advises her to slow down, as the persnickety town marshal has jailed him before. “For speeding?” she asks. No, he says, just for enjoying himself. Having been a frequent guest, he can give directions to the town jail, which, he says, is his favorite. The 1959 (Hee-Haw) Jeff Tucker of indeterminate race is entirely bland in every way, without criminal history, snappy dialogue, or a taste for drama and excitement.


Previous Updates








The Mayor of Casterbridge - progress 36%

The Mayor of Casterbridge - Thomas Hardy

This is pretty boring. I'm thinking about DNFing it. 


The Secret of the Old Clock – ND1.6

The Secret of the Old Clock - Russell H. Tandy, Sara Paretsky, Carolyn Keene The Secret of the Old Clock - Carolyn Keene


Nancy Drew Project continued: Reading the 1930 & 1959 versions of The Secret of The Old Clock simultaneously, comparing differences in the story and characters, and pondering dated plot points. Spoilers: full plot description below.


1930 (Ch14-17) vs 1959 (Chs11-13)


Nancy leaves camp and takes the back roads to the Topham lake cottage. She finds the cottage deserted and nearly empty of furnishings, and, analyzing the clues of wheel ruts in the road, the state of the cottage, footprints and marks in the dirt outside the cottage, etc., deduces that the Tophams have been robbed and that the thieves will likely be returning. She suddenly realizes that she’s out in the deserted woods alone and nobody knows where she is. The robbers return and Nancy hides in a closet while they finish removing all the furniture, but she’s caught when she can’t suppress a sneeze. After a struggle and defiant exchange with the robbers, who have all the manners of Tolkien’s quarrelling trolls, the leader locks Nancy in the closet and leaves her to starve. Nancy alternates between screaming for help, despair, and determinedly trying to escape by various methods. Finally, she uses a clothing rod as a lever in the crack at the bottom to tear the door off the hinges. Although the 1959 book is sure to tell us how cool and courageous Nancy is, in case we couldn’t tell from her actions, the books here are pretty similar.


When Jeff Tucker shows up just as Nancy breaks out, we have the next major example of character cleanup. The 1930 Jeff Tucker is a horrible caricature in the style of the time, played for comic relief. The “colored caretaker” is childishly foolish, his speech written as stereotyped vernacular. The thieves lured him away from his duties with promises of whiskey and leisure, then robbed the house while he lay passed out. Nancy treats him with amused condescension.


“I was just all fed up bein’ a caih-taker and takin’ caih o’ all dis truck from mornin’ till night. It ain’t such an excitin’ life, Miss, and while I’s done sowed all mah wild oats, I still sows a little rye now and den.”


“Yes, Jeff – I can smell that on your breath right now.”


The 1959 re-write transforms Jeff from a caricatured black man to a caricatured rural/lower class man of unspecified race who was lured away from his duties with a fake story about trespassers on another property, then locked in a shed. This Jeff Tucker speaks like a Grand Ole Opry reject. Although Nancy is still a little condescending, she doesn’t berate the man for neglecting his duties.


“I was plain hornswoggled by those critters, Miss Drew.”


Dated plot points: No mobile phone, obviously, so neither Nancy nor Jeff could get themselves out of their predicament by just calling or texting for help. Although I suppose that in a current day version of this story, the lake cabin could be so rural that there’s no mobile service.


Previous updates:







We Have Always Lived in the Castle ★★★★☆

We Have Always Lived in the Castle - Shirley Jackson, Bernadette Dunne

Shirley Jackson is so good at taking us inside the heads of characters who really don’t fully understand how disturbed they are, and neither do we, until we do. And that a-ha moment, when clarity hits. This story leaves me with even more questions about what is real or not and fascinated with the dynamics between individual characters, their family unit, and between them and the townsfolk. And maybe it’s because I was reading Carpe Jugulum at the same time, I couldn’t help thinking of

those final scenes in terms of classic stories of villagers becoming a howling mob with torches and pitchforks to storm the castle where the monster lives. Or maybe that was intentional on the author's part. The girls in their isolation in that big old house with their almost mythic backstory of murder really kind of fit the monster in the castle and angry, frightened villagers, don't they?

(show spoiler)


Audiobook via Audible. Bernadette Dunn’s performance is as outstanding as it was for The Haunting of Hill House.

Carpe Jugulum ★★★★★

Carpe Jugulum - Terry Pratchett

I can’t believe I just finished the last Discworld book in the Witches series. Dammit, why isn’t there more?!? Wait, I think there’s still a couple in the Tiffany Aching stories I haven’t read yet, maybe those count?


It didn’t take me long to progress through the first three of the five stages of grief. I may never reach Acceptance, though, because I am really going to miss Granny and Nanny Ogg and Magrat and Agnes/Perdita. Mostly Granny, though. I sure hope she makes some cameo appearances in the other books I haven’t read yet.


Carpe Jugulum was fun. So much fun that I mostly blew off watching the ALCS and stayed up waaaay past my bedtime during the work week to finish.


Previous Updates:

10/15/17 10/394pg 

10/17/17 337/394pg


Carpe Jugulum - progress 337/394 pg

Carpe Jugulum - Terry Pratchett

Vampires are not naturally cooperative creatures. It's not in their nature. Every other vampire is a rival for the next meal. In fact, the ideal situation for a vampire is a world in which every other vampire has been killed off and no one seriously believes in vampires anymore. They are by  nature as cooperative as sharks. 


Vampyres are just the same, the only real difference being that they can't spell properly.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest ★★★☆☆

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest: 50th Anniversary Edition - Ken Kesey, John C. O'Reilly

I can see why some people praise this book so highly, and I can see how it was such a hit at the time it was published, even without the iconic movie starring the always-crazy Jack Nicholson. The imagery is compelling, as is the unreliable voice of the (?) paranoid schizophrenic narrator through which we experience the events. It works well as a rather heavy-handed political/social allegory, but I found myself unable to get past the unapologetic racism and misogyny presented as a fun way to break from societal norms and expectations.


I was much more interested in the audio “extra” at the end of the story: an NPR interview by Terry Gross of the author, who explains the origins of the story, his first-hand experiences as a subject of the CIA’s LSD experiments conducted on students in the 1960’s and as an aide in a psychiatric hospital.


Audiobook via Audible. The author’s unpolished reading of his own work really fits the story.

Murder in the Bayou - DNF

Murder in the Bayou: Who Killed the Women Known as the Jeff Davis 8? - Ethan Brown

I’m more than a little disappointed that I couldn’t get through this book, because I genuinely like true crime and from what I’ve read about it, this was great investigative journalism by the author. But the audiobook performance was just not working for me. It sounded like the narrator was reading a news article that he just didn’t find very interesting. I gave it more than my minimum 20 minutes of listening for audio before deciding to DNF, but I’m not rating it, as my issues with it are due to the audio performance rather than the writing or content. Maybe I’ll try this one again sometime in the bound format.

Dark Matter ★★★★☆

Dark Matter - Michelle Paver

Although technically a ghost story, the real horror for me is the sense of creeping dread and isolation and loneliness as the last man left in the endless night of an arctic camp. Most chilling of all is the man’s horror at contemplating the afterlife should he perish there and become a ghost himself – not just a winter of endless night alone, but an eternity.


Audiobook via Audible. Jeremy Northam proves he’s as wonderful an audio narrator as he is an actor, which certainly isn’t true of everyone.


Carpe Jugulum - progress 10/394 pg

Carpe Jugulum - Terry Pratchett

The pointy hat carried a lot of weight in the Ramtops. People talked to the hat, not to the person wearing it. When people were in serious trouble they went to a witch.*


*Sometimes, of course, to say, "please stop doing it."

Hospice Whispers: Stories of Life ★★★★★

Hospice Whispers: Stories of Life - Rev Dr. Carla Cheatham

A short book and quick read that uses brief vignettes to illustrate some key principles of providing hospice care. The principle audience is chaplains, but I feel it provides good, useful information for all professions, and probably even for lay people who may be looking for ways to support family or friends who are going through an end of life experience.



  • Snippets of science-based knowledge regarding the patient experience and abilities at end of life and through the progression of dementia and how physical changes can impact a person’s ability to perceive and process information and to communicate. Using that knowledge, we can look for ways to help people find peace and contentment at end of life. The focus can shift from what they can no longer really do as they decline physically and cognitively, but to what they can still do.
  • Offers examples of practical tools and techniques to connect with patients and their families
  • Reinforced over and over – we cannot presume to know what the patient and family need. We are not the experts on knowing what their end of life experience should look like. We must be respectful to the ethic of autonomy and dignity that we are called to honor. For some people, it’s physical closeness and prayer. For some, it’s popcorn and games of dominoes. For some, it’s watching TV shows that may include violence and explicit sexual content.
  • Reminder that there may be family history and dynamics that we don’t know about, so do not make assumptions based on the information available to us. We cannot make judgements, determine who is right or wrong, make excuses, or take sides in conflicts. We can only use the information to “be more aware of how the grief process and medical care are being impacted by those patterns”.
  • Reminder that we are not there to “fix”, only to provide support at end of life. Must develop the ability to just “be with ourselves”, not filling up the silence with noise and distractions, so that we can just “be” with our patients, and to “sit with compassionate equanimity” in the midst of another’s spiritual, emotional, or physical pain.
  • Hospice workers must set boundaries and engage in self-care, and bring a healthy and full self to their work, not look to take self-fulfillment from the patients and families that they are there to help.


Quote: “Chaplain, if one more kind, loving, well-intentioned, good-hearted person tells me my momma is in a better place, I’m gonna slap the shit out of them!”… I took her hands and said, “On behalf of all the kind, loving, well-intentioned, good-hearted but misguided people who say stupid things, I am so sorry. And when you slap the shit out of them, tell them you have the chaplain’s permission to do so.”

The Haunting of Maddy Clare ★★★★☆

The Haunting of Maddy Clare - Simone St. James, Pamela Garelick

This could have been a much better book with a 75% reduction in Romance. And I do mean Romance with a capital R. Including the tortured Hero and shy, plain, Heroine who doesn’t realize that she’s actually pretty and despairs over having a great big jiggly bosom when 1920’s fashion is cut for boobless figures. Because what man would find big boobs attractive?!?


Still, the ghost story and murder mystery stuff were good enough to overcome all that. If I gave half-stars on ratings this would be 3 ½ so I rounded up to 4 stars.


Audiobook via Audible, with performance by Pamela Garelick, who did a great job on pacing and voicing the characters. Not sure how she did on the sex scenes, I FFed through those.


Thanks to Murder by Death for the book/author rec. This is the second Simone St. James book I’ve read, since you rec’d this book to me, and I have a third (An Inquiry Into Love and Death) on my TBR.

Hangsaman ★★★★☆

Hangsaman - Shirley Jackson

This was a weird little book, and I enjoyed it very much, but I’m also glad that it’s just novella sized because I doubt I could have lasted through 300 pages of Jackson’s experimental writing. It was not an easy read, because nothing is very clear, least of all what’s real vs. what’s going on inside Natalie’s head. I had to take it in small sips, but what delightful little sips those were. What starts out as slyly mocking and funny, eventually becomes a little sad and terrifying, especially once 

I realized that it’s this very tendency of Natalie’s to critically examine everyone and everything about her, viewing it/them as characters in a story, imagine them in other storylines, etc., that isolates her from the ability to form any kind of meaningful relationship and contributes to her crushing loneliness and downward spiral.

(show spoiler)

At least, that’s my interpretation of what it all means. I could be completely wrong, because this is one weird little book.


Vintage paperback copy, found in a $5 (edit) $2 bundle of gothics I got at Half Price Books. A real gem in a pile of poop, if you will. My copy is a 50 cent Ace Star with delightfully musty yellowed pages and this fantastic cover:


Previous Updates:

10/11/17 12/191 pg.

10/11/17 39/191 pg


10/13/17 84/191 pg



Shelfie Time! Or "how I saved my sanity by reorganizing my shelves"

My main shelves have been so overcrowded that I decided to do some shelf reorganizing this week. More specifically, I was forced to decentralize my books, if I was going to maintain some sort of order and be able to view my living room shelves with pleasure rather than a sort of frantic overwhelmed sense of failure. 


I've been trying to keep all my books, organized by shelf, in my Wall O' Books, but I've accumulated so many that they were just haphazardly crammed in. Mowing through my TBR backlog hasn't helped, because I still keep most of the books after I've read them.


So my new organizational system: Wall O' Books is still for collections and TBR, but all the read books are now moved off, but still more or less grouped by category, so I'll know where to find them if needed. Over time, as my TBR gets smaller, I can move the read books back to the Wall. I also culled any non-collectible books that I rated less than 4 stars - those are donated to the library or Goodwill. 


First: The Wall O' Books. Collections on either end with TBR (mostly) in the middle.

My Nancy Drew collection on left, and yes I'm still planning to finish my ND project, it's just stalled right now. On right is my collection of classic horror and fantasy: Stephen Kings, Harry Potters, and Tolkiens, with my niece's trilogy and that fabulous EA Poe popup sharing Tolkien's shelf.


TBR in the middle, but the Romance TBR is creeping over to the bottom shelf on left under the Girl Detective. 

TBR Children's lit: Left shelf 1

TBR Vintage books (mostly inherited): Right shelf 1

TBR General fiction: Left shelf 2 & Right shelf 2 & 3

TBR Nonfiction: Right shelf 4 & 5

TBR Scifi/fantasy/horror: Left shelf 3, 4, & 5

TBR Romance: under the Nancy Drews


Since those are the only nice bookshelves that I've got, the "read" books are now scattered to various places around the house - but still semiorganized.


My favorite vintage books have place of pride display in the living room, on the little table under my tv:


Guest room - additional fantasy on my grandmother's table and held with a handcarved bookstop that was a gift from my grandparents back when I was such a weird little kid that they had no idea what to give me except books and educational stuff. Also my "school bookshelf", used to keep all my school and professional texts and householdy reference books. Those need this supersturdy solid oak bookshelf because all those weighty books would make any less serious bookshelf sag over time. 


All the other hardcovers are starting a new "bookshelf" on top of my desk cabinets in my study - there's lots of room to grow on here. 


 And finally, because I didn't know what else to do with them, until I finally get around to decorating my bedroom instead of just throwing random old stuff in there, I put the rest of my read children's lit, paperbacks, and Discworld books on a saggy old pressboard bookshelf that dates back to high school, where I keep DVDs and photo albums. 


I know this is probably not very interesting to anybody but me, but I spent so much time agonizing over it that I wanted to document it somewhere.



Hangsaman - progress 84/191 pg

Hangsaman - Shirley Jackson

Yikes that scene with the professor and wife and students - meow! This book is not at all what I was expecting.