Sunday, November 29, 2015

LOTR Read-Along - The Return of the King {Book V, Ch. I-V}

I do not know how the pagination works in the editions y'all are reading, but mine picks up where the previous book left off rather than starting back at 1. So, in starting The Return of the King, I am on page 731. I really like the sense of continuity this builds — for those who don't know, these books were originally one long book. It also gives me a great sense of accomplishment lol. Anyways, we are on the last one! I cannot believe it has already been 8 weeks since we started this. I know it is going to be hard to finish during the busy holiday season but I hope y'all persevere. It will be worth it!

Does anyone else feel sorry for Pippin? The poor guy has no clue. Tolkien does a wonderful job with Pippin's age; he does not let us forget that Pippin is the youngest hobbit. He has barely reached the age of majority and does not have the perspective that the other three have. He is an impressionable kid who is caught up in events much larger than himself and is drowning, more or less. He is so real. Two of my excellent friends and I were talking about how the LOTR is such a real story; not everything turns out perfect, nor is every character perfect. I think Pippin is a prime example of this. Many of the popular fantasy stories out there (especially with YA protagonists, as Pippin would be) revolve around a young kid having to bear burdens beyond their years and how they overcome them against all odds. This is a wonderful thing and I am not knocking it. I am merely pointing out that Pippin represents what would really happen if most of us were placed in a similar situation. He is completely dependent on Gandalf (I would be, too!) and does not do critical thinking well. Which is all completely understandable because he is facing, literally, the end of the world and has no idea how to cope.

At first I was very frustrated with him... I might have even thought, "Pull your head out of your butt!!!" a couple of times. The more I read, though, the more I realized that he is representative of the vast majority of us. He is so young, so innocent. Rather than look on him with contempt, I should look on him with patience. Rather than ignore him because he has nothing to offer, I should take 5 minutes to explain so that he might begin to understand.

1. Denethor is the Steward of Minas Tirith, not its king. Gandalf says that he, too, is a steward. What is he the steward of?

2. Can you relate to Merry's feelings of helplessness? How is his helplessness different from that of Pippin?

3. Why is Denethor going mad?

4. In "The Ride of the Rohirrim" we are given some of the myriad of emotions that surround battle. Trace them from the start of the chapter to the end. Is this something that is easily understood for those who have never been in battle, who have never pitted their lives against another?

This week we have Ch. VI- X. Have a wonderful week!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

LOTR Read-Along: Two Towers {Book IV, Ch. VI-X}

I did not anticipate liking this book as much as I did. It is, I confess, my least favorite of the movies; I thought I would feel the same about the slow pace of the book as I did about the slow pace of the movie. Nothing could be further from the truth! The book allows us in the thoughts and the emotions of the characters that is all but impossible in a movie. One of my classes is reading The Scarlet Letter and they told me that they would not have figured out who the father was so early if they had not seen the movie. Movies do such a wonderful job with interpersonal communication but often miss the mark when it comes to internal dialogues and nuanced conversations. This is very true of The Two Towers. The dialogue of the second half - between Frodo and Sam, Frodo and Gollum, Gollum and Sam, Faramir and the hobbits - all of it is immensely important to the story, adding the depth to the narrative for which fantasy is so well-known. The majority of this is lost in the medium of film (I am not saying the film is terrible, just different).

Talk about a cliff-hanger! I felt so badly for Sam in that last chapter. It is a wonder that he did not have a heart attack, truly, because of the wild disparity of the emotions he experienced in such a short span. I have a feeling I am going to devour The Return of the King.

1. What two impossible choices must Frodo make in Chapter VI? Why, do you think, does Tolkien keep putting his characters through this kind of thing?

2. In Chapter VIII Frodo, Sam, and Gollum encounter the Wraith King. Why is Frodo not tempted to hide using the Ring?

3. Sam, speaking of adventure stories, says, "I used to think that they were things wonderful folk of the stories went out and looked for... but that's not the way of it with the tales that really mattered, or the ones that stay in the mind. Folk seem to have been just landed in them". Do you agree or disagree? The stories that really matter (in your opinion), are they sought out or do they happen and the characters have to deal with them/

4. What are your thoughts on Sam's choices in Chapter X? Would you have done the same? Done something differently?

We are starting the last book this week. Time has flown by. We are reading Ch. I-V of The Return of the King. Hope y'all have a great week!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Jenny Reviews: Innkeeper Chronicles

I am a big fan of the husband and wife team behind Ilona Andrews. I have read and re-read the Kate Daniels series and The Edge series multiple times in the two years since I have come across them. Their books are always humorous, well-written, and character-driven. They come up with the quirkiest ideas and, somehow, they work. One of the quirkiest, in my opinion, is the Innkeeper Chronicles. Each of the books (only two so far) starts life as a serial on their blog. This means we get to read it for free, one chapter at a time, while they are writing it. It is a really cool process. I came across Clean Sweep, the first in the series, when it was almost done so I missed out on most of it but was able to follow the second book, Sweep in Peace, from the beginning. And I am so glad I did! It was a fascinating to get the story piece by piece as it is written. It has given me an even deeper appreciation for the craft of writing long, sustained narratives. With that being said, I want to introduce you to the two books that currently make up the Innkeeper Chronicles — did I mention that they are very reasonably priced? Even more reason to love them!

The Vitals

Clean Sweep by Ilona Andrews
Release Date: 2 December 2013
Page Count: 235
Genre: Fantasy
Target Audience: Adult
Series: Innkeeper Chronicles #1
Format: Purchased; Kindle e-book
Goodreads | Amazon

Summary (From Goodreads)
On the outside, Dina Demille is the epitome of normal. She runs a quaint Victorian Bed and Breakfast in a small Texas town, owns a Shih Tzu named Beast, and is a perfect neighbor, whose biggest problem should be what to serve her guests for breakfast. But Dina is...different: Her broom is a deadly weapon; her Inn is magic and thinks for itself. Meant to be a lodging for otherworldly visitors, the only permanent guest is a retired Galactic aristocrat who can’t leave the grounds because she’s responsible for the deaths of millions and someone might shoot her on sight. Under the circumstances, "normal" is a bit of a stretch for Dina.

And now, something with wicked claws and deepwater teeth has begun to hunt at night....Feeling responsible for her neighbors, Dina decides to get involved. Before long, she has to juggle dealing with the annoyingly attractive, ex-military, new neighbor, Sean Evans—an alpha-strain werewolf—and the equally arresting cosmic vampire soldier, Arland, while trying to keep her inn and its guests safe. But the enemy she’s facing is unlike anything she’s ever encountered before. It’s smart, vicious, and lethal, and putting herself between this creature and her neighbors might just cost her everything.

Notes on Clean Sweep
This book is unlike any I have read. The premise — an innkeeper who is trying to revive an intergalactic inn — is unique and provides a wonderful, elastic backdrop for all sorts of adventures and misadventures (which, arguably, are more fun than adventures, anyway). The main character, Dina, is one of my favorite characters in fantasy literature. She is so normal, and I mean that in the best possible way. She is someone you would want to hang out with. Everything about her is so real; she does not make stupid decisions that have you rolling your eyes in disbelief. Can I just tell you how freakin' refreshing that is?! She is practical, she is slightly snarky, and she is steadfast. She balances out the otherworldliness of the other characters perfectly. I cannot recommend this book enough. It is well worth the few hours and few dollars (literally - it is $1.99 on kindle!!!!). 

Memorable Quotes
“Being an innkeeper meant walking a fine line between courtesy and tyranny.”

“Where is Arland?"
"Rapunzel decided to walk around in the woods to get 'the feel of the battleground.' He won't leave the grounds and he promises to defend the inn with 'all the strength in his body.' I told him if he gets in trouble, he should try singing prettily so his woodland friends will come to the rescue. I don't think he got it.” 

 The Vitals

 Sweep in Peace by Ilona Andrews
 Release Date: 13 November 2015
 Page Count: 237
 Genre: Fantasy
 Target Audience: Adult
 Series: Innkeeper Chronicles #2
 Format: Purchased; Kindle e-book

 Summary (From Goodreads)
Dina DeMille doesn’t run your typical Bed and Breakfast. Her inn defies laws of physics, her fluffy dog is secretly a monster, and the only paying guest is a former Galactic tyrant with a price on her head. But the inn needs guests to thrive, and guests have been scarce, so when an Arbitrator shows up at Dina's door and asks her to host a peace summit between three warring species, she jumps on the chance.

Unfortunately, for Dina, keeping the peace between Space Vampires, the Hope-Crushing Horde, and the devious Merchants of Baha-char is much easier said than done. On top of keeping her guests from murdering each other, she must find a chef, remodel the inn...and risk everything, even her life, to save the man she might fall in love with. But then it's all in the day's work for an Innkeeper…

Notes on Sweep in Peace
I love this book even more than the first one. And, to be honest, that very rarely happens. Normally the second book is either on the same level or a bit lower than the first; that is not the case with this series at all. Dina has to host a peace-keeping (or, rather, seeking) summit at her inn that no one wants. Her inn desperately needs guests and this would be a major coup. Several friends from another series pop in, which was a wonderful crossover for longtime Andrews' fans. The plot is tight, complex, and engaging. You cannot simply skim through this book; it requires more brain cells than the first. There is so much at stake in the peace talks that it requires a more serious, more harsh (in a way) book than the first. Yes, this book is still humorous. It just has a more serious undertone than the first. Perhaps, too, with the events of last week in Beirut and Paris the necessity of peace has been driven home a bit within us all. The resolution is brilliant and compassionate. How I wish such a measure could be used in our world. Nothing breaks down walls like understanding one another's pain. Sorry to get all philosophical — back to the book! The best part of all of the Andrews' work is the complexity and believability of the characters and the plot of this book really allows that strength to shine. These characters are all true to form and are not caricatures, which I would imagine is easier said than done when it comes to writing them. For example, the vampires are not defined by their "vampirism"; there is more to the characters than simply trite stereotypes. They are driven by a multitude of emotions and motives, making them a million times more believable. These book has several main players and each one is carefully developed AND stays true to that development. I cannot wait to see what the Andrews have in store for Dina next!

Memorable Quotes
“My future chef was an oversized, hysterical hedgehog with a martyr complex.”

“No, I never expect people to be idiots,” George said. “I do expect them to lack some of the necessary information, because experience has demonstrated to me that assuming someone in a key position knows everything you do leads to disaster.”

“You are not meant to be at peace. We, the human beings, are meant to live life to its fullest. We are meant to experience it all—sadness, disappointment, rage, kindness, joy, love. We are meant to test ourselves. It is painful and frightening, but this is what it means to be alive.”

Sunday, November 15, 2015

LOTR Read-Along: Two Towers {Book III, Ch. VII-XI} + {Book IV, Ch. I-V}

It is two for one week on the blog! Or, more truthfully, I have been so busy that I missed last week's discussion post so they are combined this week. Not quite as catchy. I started a new temporary job and it is taking a bit to get settled in. So, my sincerest apologies. I hope it will not happen again.

A lot has happen in these chapters! Just because I have not been blogging does not mean I have not been reading. In fact, events from The Two Towers have made their way into my teaching lately as examples. It is heartening how many high school students at the school I am at enjoy LOTR. This balances out how disheartening it is that they could not tell me that David was king of Israel (I'm at a Christian school). Anyways, these sections of the larger story are particularly interesting to me because of the pacing. I literally could not put down the book when reading about the Helm's Deep and Isengard and the reunion of the majority of the Fellowship. Then comes the long and grueling road of Frodo and Sam. It was hard, I admit, to make myself read every word and to not skim. It is just so, well, boring after the excitement of the previous chapters. The more I pondered it, however, the more I appreciate Tolkien's genius in giving Frodo and Sam the second half of the book. One cannot appreciate the contrast between the two paths of the Fellowship as well if the boring and come before the exciting. We would not have realized how boring the boring is if we did not know how exciting it could be. Are you tracking with me?

Why is this important? Because the more I read the more I am in awe of Frodo's determination. His is the path less desirable, for multiple reasons, but most especially because it is the most difficult, the least rewarding, and the loneliest. He has only Sam for company, which is nothing to sneeze at, but Sam is not an equal the way others were. He cannot share the fears and doubts of Frodo just yet. Frodo is the wise council, he has no where else to turn at this moment. And his decisions affect not only him but sweet Sam as well. While Frodo is not facing the dangers of battle, his is the greater fight of simply putting one foot in front of the other. How often do I overlook this in my own life? Those who are faithful in the every day little things, not just the big, showy ones? In Sunday School this morning the teacher spoke of how Barnabas was the unsung hero of the early Church. I believe the movies make Frodo something of an unsung hero, while the book is the praising of Frodo, of giving his story the attention it deserves in a way that highlights the strength of his character.

Book III, Ch. VII-XI
1. Why does Aragorn try and parley with the Orcs? What is the essence of his message?

2. What is the Ents role in these victories? Do you prefer the movie version or book version of this?

3. Saruman relies on the power of machines instead of that of nature. What is the result of this? Why do you think Tolkien continually draws attention to the strength of nature?

4. Why does Gandalf not intercede when Saruman is addressing Theoden?

5. Why does Pippin want to see the Stone again? What is driving him?

Book IV, Ch. I-V
1. How has Frodo changed since the beginning? How are these changes marked?

2. Think on Sam's reaction to Gollum vs. Frodo's. Which one do you feel your own reactions align with most closely?

3. Why does Frodo make a distinction between swearing on the Ring and swearing by the Ring?

4. What kind of feelings does Gollum illicit? Is he truly a sympathetic character? Why or why not?

5. What makes Faramir so different from his brother Boromir? How would the Fellowship have been different had Faramir been a part of it instead?

We are finishing up The Two Towers this week. I cannot believe we are already almost to the last book. I hope y'all are enjoying this amidst the business of life. Have a wonderful week :)

Monday, November 2, 2015

Beauty Queens and Eggheads

For those of you who do not know, I  (Jenny) work part time at a hair salon. I am most definitely not a stylist; I run the front desk. If you want an appointment, I'm your girl. If you want a bang trim or ombre, see one of the girls. It is, hands down, the best part-time job ever. Excellent bosses, hysterical coworkers, and heavily discounted salon services? Yes, please.

When I first applied I was a little... leery. It is a small salon, so that means 7+ girls working in cramped quarters. If some type of drama goes down there is nowhere to run. I also do not possess an artistic temperament; I tend toward logic, not emotion. Also, let's be honest, I very rarely wear makeup and the only thing I know how to do to my hair is blow dry it. Needless to say, my apprehension was understandable. Luckily, the bosses took a chance on me and I am so very, very glad that they did!


What is the point of this post? At the macro level, to talk about intelligence. At the micro level, to share my thankfulness for bosses and coworkers. Let's go big picture first. These ladies are some of the smartest people I have had the privilege of being around. What do I mean by that? They understand people, the way the world works, and the necessity of having people in your life who have your back. They are counselors in all but name. Some of the things clients tell them y'all would not believe. They listen, they advise, they console, and they care. Their people-smarts are honed through years of listening to the people in their chairs. They understand emotion. I, on the other hand, am an egghead. I understand logic, think about the philosophy of ideas, and can discuss literature from The Communist Manifesto to Beowulf, if a client is so inclined. They degrade themselves to me ALL THE TIME because they think they are not as smart as I am. Can y'all see the ridiculousness of this?! I have talked till I am blue in the face but they still make comments all the time about how I am smarter. So what if you did not know "apropos" was a word? You knew exactly what to say to encourage the client who is struggling with infertility. I cannot understand people very well because it does not occur to me that people will think/act with their emotions first, not logic. Their intelligence is just as valuable, just as impressive, and just as hard-earned as mine is.

Okay, small picture now. In case you cannot tell, I am so, so thankful for these crazies. They challenge me to come out of my egghead shell. They encourage me to engage the real world, not just the world of books. They bring me down to the concrete, tangible beauty that I so often miss in my world of abstracts. Y'all, I wear red lipstick on occasion now. I can (somewhat) successfully use bobby pins in my own hair. I like to think I have had some impact on them, too. If nothing else, I make sure that their appointments don't get out of whack and that they have clean dishes and remind them to call clients back. This group has seen me through my BA and MA. They have prayed over me, challenged me, made me laugh, and made me cry on occasion. A client tried to insult me by saying I looked like a librarian and they were all offended on my behalf... and then we all laughed together because, come on, I cannot think of a less-insulting thing to call me. Librarians are the best! I am a firm believer in the fact that eggheads and beauty queens need each other. We are better together.


Sunday, November 1, 2015

LOTR Read-Along: Two Towers {Book III, Chapters I - VI}

It is so hard for me not to race through this book. The Two Towers starts off exactly where the Fellowship left off (since all three were originally written as one book) and it does not slow down much. New characters are introduced, old friends are reacquainted, and small hopes keep the Company pushing forward. The ties that bind the Company are strained by distance, treachery, and the unknown but still remain strong. I love how loyal the are to one another, no matter how tough the situation. Sometimes that loyalty means one must stick to the path that leads away from the others, no matter how hard that is or unwise it seems. I fall in love with this world a little bit more with every word I read. I so hope y'all are doing the same!

1. Aragorn spends a good bit of the first and second chapters second guessing his decisions. How does this differ from what we have seen of him thus far? Would you have done anything differently?

2. "Well, we have no time to ponder riddles," said Gimli. "Let us bear Boromir away!" "But after that we must guess the riddles, if we are to choose our course rightly," answered Aragorn. "Maybe there is no right choice," answered Gimli.
Do you think Gimli has the right of it? Is there always a right answer?

3. What does nature tell Legolas and Aragorn, and even Gimli when he pays attention? How does "reading" the signs it provides help or hinder them? Why is nature affected?

4. Tolkien constantly refers to Treebeard's eyes. What do they look like? What do they seem to contain? Are they truly "windows of the soul"?

5. Is hope important? How important is it to the Fellowship? What different ways has hope been manifested thus far?

(Bonus!) Which Norse deity does Gandalf resemble with his gray cloak, hat, and staff?

I wish I could tell y'all all of the Old English/Old Norse materials used in crafting the Rohirrim. I could not read that chapter without trying to interpose our world on to it. It was close enough that I could pretend that Middle Earth was our own history. Anyways, hope y'all have a great week and enjoy Chapters 7-11 :)