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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 Bungalow Mystery
P.M. Carlson, Russell H. Tandy, Carolyn Keene
The Remains of the Day
Kazuo Ishiguro, Simon Prebble
Duel of Eagles: The Mexican and U.S. Fight for the Alamo
Jeff Long
Progress: 11/431 pages
The Secret of Shadow Ranch
Carolyn Keene
I am No One You Know
Joyce Carol Oates
The Return of the King
J.R.R. Tolkien, Rob Inglis
Progress: 13 %

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper ★★★☆☆

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper - Phaedra Patrick

Once in a while, I fall for the “because you read ______” recommendations that shout at me from every book buying and review site. I’ve been trying, unsuccessfully, to think of a time when I wasn’t disappointed. I need to remember this, next time temptation strikes.


This book was supposed to please readers who enjoyed A Man Called Ove and The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, and I suppose it is similar in that its main character is an old man who goes on a journey of self discovery. But that’s about it. I found the story charming at first, but it quickly devolved into cutesiness, and neither the writing nor the lessons learned nor the character evolution lifted it above the threshold for suspension of disbelief required for its unlikely events or improbable characters as did the two books that the recommendation was based on. The forward momentum stopped several chapters before the end, and I had to force myself to finish. It was an okay story, I suppose, for people who like glurge.


Audiobook, purchased via Audible. The performance by James Langton was excellent, and elevated the book from two stars to three.

Just checking in, Part II. Whoaaaaaaa

Feeling optimistic and decided to check in. And I have 119 notifications and my dashboard is loading!  And my "last tags" is working!


Dare I hope???

Just checking in...

I got frustrated with how slow & buggy Booklikes had been running since the first maintenance downtime and just stayed away for a week. I couldn't even get my dashboard to load so I could read everyone's posts. 


Looks like the problems aren't resolved, though, since my dashboard is still loading only one post. :(

A Wrinkle in Time ★★★☆☆

A Wrinkle in Time (Audio) - Hope Davis, Madeleine L'Engle Had I first encountered this book as a child, I would have loved it. Reading it for the first time as an adult, I found it a charming and sweet story with a likeable message. But it dragged for me in places, with my interest lagging until at least halfway through the story, and the ending was a little too… nice. Audiobook, borrowed from my public library via Overdrive. Very good performance by Hope Davis. Fantastic forewords by the author and by Ava DuVernay (the director for the upcoming film adaptation).

Duel of Eagles - page 11/431


Continuing on my journey through the bookish legacy from my father, who passed away last month, Duel of Eagles is a nonfiction account of the fight for the Alamo. My dad was an enthusiast of the Wild West, both the true history and the many pop-culture tributes. So many of the books he gave me, and most of those I never actually read, were Texas history-related. This book is preparation for the fiction book he gave me, The Gates of the Alamo. 


This one, at least, promises not to be a stereotypically dry history book. Long seems to regard the Dead White Guy approach with tongue in cheek: 


Texas seemed to open her prehistoric arms to Old Hickory, to Crockett, Houston, Bowie, and tens of thousands of other Anglo-Americans. She seemed to await their powerful hand, their radical voice, their ax and gun. To await their seed... cotton and otherwise. Texas offered herself as the last Eden, a soil in need of industry, and idea in need of consecration. The Americans visualized Texas in their own image. 


The strange thing was not how they needed Texas but how - they testified - Texas needed them. Even those who had never seen the land, and most had not, were transfixed by the thought of saving it. To those pilgrims who actually crossed the Sabine River or sailed down from New Orleans, Texas sang like a flock of naked angels. Texas bewitched and seduced them


Duel of Eagles: The Mexican and U.S. Fight for the Alamo - Jeff Long  The Gates of the Alamo - Stephen Harrigan  

The Queen Bee ★★★★☆

The Queen Bee - Edna L. Lee

The endlessly quotable writing saves this book from being a fairly standard Southern Gothic Romance. The plot and characters are full of tropes. But, oh, so much fun in the way it’s written and the way the characters are drawn! It’s told from the POV of the Ingénue, who at the time of telling the story is older, wiser, wearier, and who looks back at her naïve former self with a lot of sympathy and a little impatience. For me, though, she is still far more sympathetic than I am, as Reader, and indeed much more sympathetic toward the male characters than I have patience with – I think they all deserve a good kick in the pants. And, although this is the point of the book, I simply can’t view the Queen Bee as all-powerful, though she is deliciously wicked. In order to fall in with the narrator’s POV, the reader must be willing to adopt that tired old attitude that men are helpless victims of their libido when women weaponize sex.


Still, though, this is a really fun read:

It was then that my aimless, drifting eyes came to Eva. Listening, she stood near a lamp, its glow enfolding and caressing the soft hair, the sweet lifting breasts, the singing line of body. Her hand rested on the back of a nearby chair. And seeing the body not yielding now but tensely held and wary, the tilted head, the raised chin, the lambent eyes which seemed to look at something far off, I was suddenly afraid. In her tense stillness there was the deadly, wary waiting of the reptile, its poisonous fang sheathed but ready to strike, swiftly and with cunning accuracy.  


Vintage 1949 hardcover, inherited from my grandmother. And here’s a fun bit of trivia for Texas history buffs: it still has the original price sticker, from E.M. Scarbrough & Sons (colloquially referred to as “Scarboroughs” in the way that native Austinites pronounce their places as they damn well please), stamped “Literary Guild $2.00”. I remember shopping at the Scarbroughs in downtown Austin when I was a kid. All that’s left, alas, is the historic building.


Disclaimer: I’ve never seen the 1955 movie. Didn’t even know there *was* a movie adaptation until I looked for a synopsis to get a sense of what the book was about, since my copy is missing the dust jacket. But, oh, I’m definitely going to spend the money to rent it. I can’t wait to see Joan Crawford bring that predatory female to life as only she can.


Previous Updates:

2/7/18 page 3


2/7/18 Movie trailer

2/8/18 page 9


2/9/18 page 35


2/10/18 page 140


The Queen Bee - page 140/220

The Queen Bee - Edna L. Lee

It was as if when he learned I was valued by someone else I assumed more value in his estimation. For this was how he appraised and judged the worth of women. 

The Return of the King - 13%

The Return of the King  - J.R.R. Tolkien, Rob Inglis

But the next day, there came no dawn, and the Grey Company passed on into the darkness of the storm of Mordor and were lost to mortal sight. But the Dead followed them. 

The Secret of the Old Clock - 49%

The Secret of the Old Clock  - Carolyn Keene, Laura Linney

I was delighted to find that the first 4 books in the Nancy Drew series are available on audio with my  new Houston Public Library e-card, and I'm listening to them out of order, because that's just how they're coming available on the Holds list. But it's actually sort of a disappointment. I love Laura Linney as an actor, but something is a little lacking as an audio narrator. Plus, listening on audio really does highlight the glaring flaws in these books that I can't help but see in spite of the soft-focus filter of nostalgia. 

The Queen Bee - page 118/220

The Queen Bee - Edna L. Lee

Well, she's finally starting to see through Eva. This has been a fun read, so far, and the writing is really enjoyable. But it's starting to devolve into a more standard Romance-type plot, which is a bummer. 

The Queen Bee - page 35/220

The Queen Bee - Edna L. Lee

Then as if his touch had pressed the spring of her emotion she was in his arms, her arms were clutched around his neck, her dark head was buried in his shoulder. The very curve of her body told me that within her was a capacity for loving so great that it was terrible. I could not bear to look. I turned my eyes away. 

The Queen Bee - page 14/220

The Queen Bee - Edna L. Lee

I told it quietly, without emotion, without tears, with no intention of trying to ease my heart as people do sometimes, by pouring its pain into his. Yet, when I finished and he leaned over and laid his hand on mine, it was eased somehow. 

The Queen Bee - page 9/220

The Queen Bee - Edna L. Lee

I sat across from him, rigid with resentment at what I considered impertinence. But I knew before long that I had misjudged him. He had not been impertinent, he would never in any situation be impertinent, or anything except himself. But I couldn't know that at first. So I sat straight and stiff in the absurdity of offended dignity. 

I found the trailer for the movie adaptation. Looks like fun!

The Queen Bee - Edna L. Lee 

Previous update: 2/7/18 page 3/220

The Queen Bee - page 3/220

The Queen Bee - Edna L. Lee

Several years ago, my dad gave me a box of books that had belonged to his mother. They're all popular fiction from the late 1940's, and most of them are missing their dust jackets, so I'm not even entirely sure what several of them are about. I have to guess from the lousy bookseller info or (hopefully) user reviews on Goodreads. This one was adapted into a movie, so there's a little more information about it. It looks to be a Southern Gothic in the style of Jezebel, maybe. The first few pages are intriguing, at least. 


I do not know what woke me. Perhaps the train jerking to a stop, for I heard the crunch of the trainmen's feet outside my window and their voices flat against the November night. For the first sleep-drugged moment I lay staring into the dark. The the past was in the dark berth with me. The shabby high-ceilinged flat, Mama's hyacinths - pink and purple - blooming in the window, the firelight gleaming on Father's books. Even the little kitchen with the spot before the stove worn by Mama's tireless feet. Small trivialities of living, all of them, hardly noticed then. Now because they were gone forever, transient miracles vested with radiance. 


This book has a faded red cloth cover, and the pages are yellowed to a dark sepia, but are in good shape, no creases or tears. On the inside of the front cover, there is my grandmother's signature in ink. I never met her, because she passed away when my father was still a teenager, but from his stories about her and from the photos we have of her, she was a lively, energetic, fun-loving lady who could be a terror to misbehaving boys. It sounds like my father and his cousins tried her patience often, as boys will do. Next to her signature is the name, written in pencil, of one of her best friends. I like to think that they shared this book and had fun talking about it, but they wouldn't have been able to see the lurid movie adaptation together, because it came out after she passed away. 

The Contadino ★★☆☆☆

The Contadino - Frank J. Agnello

With better editing, this might have been an enjoyable read. There is a good sense of place and history, and the characters are interesting. But it was difficult to get past the frequently shifting tenses, the missing commas, and even a couple of incomplete sentences. These flaws pulled me out of the story multiple times in every chapter.


Paperback copy, a gift from my father several years ago, because the setting and historical events reflect our own family’s history of Sicilian immigrants to the USA around the turn of the 20th century.


Previous Updates:

2/4/18 - pg 3/472