Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Blackout -- NOT Andy Carpenter, but just as good!

If you follow this blog at all, you should be well aware 
that I love Rosenfelt's Andy Carpenter series. 
Truly, I do!
However, when I discovered that he also publishes stand-alone mysteries,
I assumed I would also like those and wondered 
if my husband might not also enjoy reading them.
I did. He does!
I checked this newest release out of the library and both of us enjoyed it very much!
Though I admit, I missed Tara greatly! (Andy's canine companion...)

He had me with the first line, really...
Nate Alvarez wanted to screen the call. (1)
Really? Why? What's going on with this guy that he needs to know who is calling? Oh, wait! I do that all the freakin' time!
If your number isn't in my phone, I'll not answer. 
Followed by the second and third sentences:
Actually, he wanted to throw the phone on the ground 
and stomp on it until it stopped ringing permanently. 
There were times in his life that he would have done exactly that, 
but Nate was thirty-seven years old, and in recent months 
there had been faint signs that he was starting to mature. (1)
Yup! There's that snarky self-deprecating humor 
I love so much from the Andy Carpenter series!
Having read these first three sentences, 
I knew this would be enjoyable! I was "in"!

Then we begin to get just a bit of information:
Doug was a loose cannon, always had been. Sometimes it helped him on the job, and sometimes it didn't. What it did was thrust Nate, his partner, into the role of seasoned, level-headed veteran. 
It was not a role that Nate was particularly well suited for. (2)
This is what I love so much. By the top of the second page we have learned so much about these two men--about their personalities and their relationship as partners! Doug had "experienced a personal tragedy that shook him to his core" about six months prior to this. It was an incident that I don't believe anyone could have recovered from or dealt with quickly or completely...perhaps ever. Doug has been chasing Nick Bennett for many years, trying to nail him with...well...something...anything!
Bennett's appearance was particularly deceiving. He was fifty-three years old, graying, 
tall and thin. He looked more like a refined patron of the arts than a person 
who had clawed his way up the criminal ladder in northern New Jersey. 
And ironically, he was in fact a patron of the arts, 
as well as a contributor to many charitable causes. (19)
So immediately we know Nick is one of those guys who is virtually untouchable! This is our first 'bad guy' who is immediately linked to a second 'bad buy,' Ahmat Gharsi, who is currently living in the U.S., unbeknownst to the authorities.  
So he was going to stay in New York City, and with perfect fake identification 
and some minor cosmetic changes in his appearance, he would not be found by the authorities, whether or not they were looking for him. 
Eventually they would learn that he was there.
After the fact. (24)
We are told that Gharsi is underestimating the threat that is Bennett. 
Ahmat Gharsi would learn that Nicholas Bennett was a force to be reckoned with, 
and one he would not be able to handle. 
After the fact. (25)

Doug is found in a motel room with a severe head injury and is suffering from retrograde amnesia in the aftermath. He cannot remember anything that has happened within the past ten years. The prognosis? He may or may not remember anything. Only time will tell. 
Waking up every morning I have the same sensation.
Things seem normal...I seem normal...and my first thought is that it isn't possible. 
There's no way I could have lost ten years of my life.
I'm pretty pissed off about it. It's like I was in a coma all that time, as if I never lived 
those years at all. I'm already realizing that life is all about memories; 
it's the way we keep score. It doesn't matter if a tree makes a sound when it falls in the forest; 
it only matters if anyone remembers it. (45)
I get that. It only seems 'normal' for someone to be angry about losing their memory. It is true that we do "keep score" through memories, isn't it? I'd never thought about it in that way, but I do agree. Without memories, you are basically screwed in many ways. Though Doug had been suspended from the police force, he is now "reinstated with full back pay." But Doug has no idea why he was suspended or what happened to him at that motel! He must ask the Captain his own rank! He was...is, a lieutenant! As you can imagine, that sets any investigation back mightily, when no one even knew where you were, let alone what you were doing and you have no clue either! Yikes! 

Throughout this book, someone tries to kill Doug who becomes a hero when he stops an attack in a movie theater. Then he becomes persona non grata with his own force, Homeland Security, and basically any other law enforcement agency involved, when he receives a tip he believes to be valid and follows up on it with a fruitless stakeout and raid. Much money, time, and manpower wasted for no tangible result. And he has no further leads after that...and still just a teeny bit of memory, but nothing compelling or helpful in solving this case. 

And though she helps, Jessie, is trying mightily to keep a certain distance from Doug, though that gives way before long. You see, not only is Jessie a fellow coworker, but she was once his fiance, until the tragedy six months ago when he broke up with her rather than allowing her to work through their combined grief together. Ouch! This is going to be tricky, as you might well imagine! The morning following their first 'reunion sex' as he prepares to leave, Doug says...
"Nate said if I ever hurt you again, he'll torture and kill me."
"He'll have to get in line." (172)
Alrighty then! At least he knows where he stands with this relationship! He had better 'do right by her,' as they say! Doug receives yet another tip and after sharing the information 
with Jessie, decides this time, he will pursue a stakeout on his own time, by himself...until...
"I'm going with you," she says.
"You don't need to do that. I'm not going to be going in shooting. I'll strictly be an observer."
"Which part of 'I'm going with you' didn't you understand?"
This is one tough lady. Not only can't I fathom why I broke up with her, 
I don't have any idea where I would have gotten the courage to do so. 
"Let me ask you one question," I say. "In past situations like this, 
when we disagreed on something, who would usually come out ahead?"
"I'm undefeated," she said.
"I'll pick you up at seven." (177)
Love it! :) As a feminist I guess I can especially appreciate this. Plus...it sounds...I don't know...I guess...rather...familiar? :)

There are last-minute twists and turns within the plot, betrayal--
all the stuff of a good mystery! 
And, people are definitely in danger! 
Some die.
Some live.
Just a good solid mystery, in my humble opinion, and my husband backs me up on that!

Do you like mysteries?
Do you have a favorite author? Series?
I'd love to know your thoughts. 

Monday, May 30, 2016

20 Books of Summer Challenge

Cathy of 746 Books has instituted this reading event/challenge!
Although you can list just 10 (as Karen at BookerTalk plans to do), or 15 books. 
I will go for 20! (Perhaps a few too many, but we'll see!)
This event begins June 1st and ends September 5th!
There is absolutely no qualifying criteria, 
other than the fact that you want to read them!

I know I will be reading:


(1) The Disobedient Wife by Annika Millsic-Stanley and 
(2) How To Be A Good Wife by Emma Chapman
for Literary Wives on June 6th and August 1st, respectively.

All of these will complete the Little House series of books 
for the Little House Read-Along 2016 hosted by myself 
and Bex of An Armchair By the Sea!

for the Campus Book Club on June 4th

Note--Don't get too excited the image to the right
is simply the best image I could locate for 
the 25th Anniversary Edition. 
My copy is from the library and NOT signed! :)

by Laura Tillman 
for the Social Justice Book Club founded by 
Kerry at Entomology of a Bookworm
Shannon of River City Reading, and 
Shaina of Shaina Reads.
One book every other month and this one is for June 2016!


(9) Smashed, Squashed, Splattered, Chewed, Chunked and Spewed 
by Lawrence Carbuncle
(10) A Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley
All of these are for the "Borders Book Club." 
It is the face-to-face book club I founded when I still worked at Borders as a bookseller.


(12) Circling the Sun by Paula McLain
Need to have this read by Friday, June 4th 
since I'll get to meet her at a book signing that evening! 

Okay, so 20 may not be such a tough number to reach after all! 
The books listed above are all those "scheduled" 
for my various book clubs, etc.
Now, to add to that!



(13) Ramie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo

(14) Blackout by David Rosenfelt

(15) Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson


(16) Home to Woefield by Susan Juby

(17) Enchanted Islands by Allison Amend
This book was sent to me by the publisher for the Keep Turning Pages GoodReads group.

(18) At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails by Sarah Bakewell
I won this book through a GoodReads giveaway!


(19) The Hemingway Book Club of Kosovo 
by Paula Huntley

(20) On the Far Side of the Mountain 
by Jean Craighead George
This is a sequel to My Side of the Mountain 
which I just reread and LOVED yet once again!
One of the rare times I can recall loving the
sequel just as much as the first book! 


My goal is to read and post reviews about each of these between June 1 and September 5.

Wish me luck!! 


Are you participating in this event? 

You can register and get details here!

And you don't have to try for 20. You can register for 10 or 15!

From Plum Creek to Silver Lake!

by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Welcome to the month of May and the fifth installment 
of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Little House series!
We are now over halfway through the 9-book series!
As usual, although I read this a week ago I am just now posting the review!
If you are interested in joining us for the Little House Read-Along 2016, 
you can find all the details here on my page documenting this event! 
I have included links to each review a reader has linked for each book thus far.
My cohost for this event is Bex of An Armchair by the Sea
You are welcome to join us whenever you feel like it. 
Some have mentioned that they only wanted to reread one or two 
of these books, and it's fine to do that, or join us for each and every one!
There is an introductory/sign-up posting on each of our blogs at the beginning 
of the month, and you are free to link to any review you have posted 
for that book throughout that month, or even after that month, 
if you couldn't quite complete it earlier. (Been there, done that! lol)
Or if you are just interested in seeing how each of us reacts to the books, 
feel free to just read reviews and comment! 
Again, whatever works for you!

This was a Newbery Honor Book for 1940, 
and it won the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for 1939! 

This book was a specific reminder of all the diseases that could attack and either kill or disable people, with no to little medicine available. Either your body proved strong enough to survive intact from an illness...or not. There wasn't much treatment possible, and in these frontier areas, people could be so isolated as to have no access to 'medical care'! Though the doctor stopped by the house every day, little could be done, and Pa was left owing a bill he had no way to pay,.. Scary times! I figure mine would have been a short life span, given my physical challenges. Uncharacteristically, the Ingalls' house was untidy when a buggy could be heard approaching the house early one morning. Pa and Laura were the only two spared from Scarlet Fever! Mary, Carrie, baby Grace, and Ma had all been sick, with none of them able to help. (Yes, Ma had another baby, so now there are four children/girls!) As if that wasn't enough, Pa instructed Laura the she now had to "be eyes for Mary," since the Fever had left her blind. Laura states aloud: 
"It's a strange woman alone in a buggy. She's wearing a brown sunbonnet and driving a bay horse." (2)

The woman was Aunt Docia and she had an offer for Charles he felt he could not refuse--a job working with her husband on the railroad that would pay $50 per month, plus a homestead! Charles would be the storekeeper, bookkeeper, and timekeeper, all in one! He would be responsible for paying the railroad workers. (I don't know...times were different...that sounds as if it could get dangerous if workers disagreed with your 'numbers.') "Uncle Sam" was giving any man 160 acres free as long as he would live on the land. Charles was excited, Ma was quite reticent, Laura was thrilled, and Jack, the faithful bulldog, well...he was old...and tired. And by page 12, Jack was no longer alive...and I was crying. I'm tearing up now as I type this. I lost my own collie, Beauty, when I was a senior in high school, and I. WILL. NEVER. FORGET. THE. PAIN. Of that loss! :( So, although Pa had made room for him to ride in the wagon all the way to the Dakota Territory, there was no need. As a friend of mine said the other day, our "pets never live long enough." So true. And poor Laura! He was really her dog most of all! Ah...so... Jack knew he couldn't make another trip, even riding in the wagon. This offset Aunt Docia's news about Mary and Laura's cat, Black Susan, left back in Wisconsin, 
She went right on living in the corncrib, sleek and plump from rats she caught, 
and there was hardly a family in all that country that didn't have one of her kittens. 
They were all good mousers, big-eared and long-tailed like Black Susan. (6)
As Ma and the girls watched Pa leave with the wagon, following Docia in her buggy,
Jack was not standing beside Laura to watch Pa go. There was only emptiness 
to turn to instead of Jack's eyes looking up to say that he was there to take care of her.
Laura knew then that she was not a little girl any more. Now she was alone; she must take care of herself. When you must do that, then you do it and you are grown up. Laura was not very big, but she was almost thirteen years old, and no one was there to depend on. Pa and Jack had gone... (14)
What struck me was Laura's inability to think of Ma as someone to "depend on." I realize Laura had evidently done all the nursing and care taking for Ma, Mary, Carrie, and baby Grace, but Ma had proven to be pretty resourceful when necessary in the past. Or was this because of gender, Pa was a man and Ma a woman...so...she wasn't to be depended upon?

Charles makes plans for Ma and the girls will remain at Plum Creek until Mary has completely recovered her strength and can travel. Then they will ride the train to the Dakota Territory. Ma and the girls were shocked at this suggestion. Laura "was not exactly afraid, but she was excited." (Admittedly, I think she was a tad bit afraid. Who wouldn't be in her situation? Having never traveled in any way other than buggy, wagon, on foot, or on horseback?) Thus begins an adventure none of them had dreamed of... Ma was a bit overwhelmed, I'm sure. Firstly, she didn't really want to relocate, but wanted to get settled somewhere and stay. Secondly, she was faced with still being a bit weak herself, yet having to maintain everything until Mary was strong enough to travel with only Laura and also weakened Carrie to help. I felt sorry for her, but she weathered it all bravely with her usually gentle and stoic, "Well, Charles, you must do as you think best." And "I am sure we will manage nicely with Laura and Carrie to help me." Ma was a wonder. I don't know that I would have been so compliant. Though I keep reminding myself it was a different place and time...

As Wilder describes the train ride, we get her excellent descriptive writing skills--once they were up to speed:
The whole car swayed now, in time to the clackety-clacking underneath it, and the black smoke blew by in melting rolls. A telegraph wire swooped up and down beyond the window. It did not really swoop, but it seemed to swoop because it sagged between the poles. It was fastened to green glass knobs that glittered in the sunshine and went dark when the smoke rolled above them. Beyond the wire, grasslands and fields and scattered farmhouses and barns went by. 
They went by so fast that Laura could not really look at them before they were gone. 
In one hour that train would go twenty miles--as far as the horses traveled in a whole day. (21)
This made me remember my grandmother's stories of riding in an automobile for the first few times, and how scary it was for her. She was born in 1896, so she witnessed similar transportation advances as Laura was experiencing. I sometimes wonder what is next for us? Teleportation? Flying vehicles? (That always makes me think of The Jetsons! lol) For just a second Laura wishes Pa was a railroad man since they "were great men," 
[b]ut of course not even railroad men were bigger or better than Pa, 
and she did not really want him to be anything but what he was. (30-31)
Since I never met my father nor had any man living with us as a "father figure" during my childhood, I wonder how much of this is rather natural or common for a daughter to hero-worship her father, or was this more a reflection of the time when men were the providers in nearly all ways? This made me wonder...

I felt so very sorry for Lena, Docia's daughter. She was made to help her mother work all the time with never a day off. Although that would certainly make sure a child was never bored! As they rode in the wagon with Pa toward Silver Lake and their new home, they met Big Jerry, who seemed to be bigger than life, and determined to protect Pa and his family. Again, Wilder's descriptive writing:
The sun sank. A ball of pulsing, liquid light, it sank in clouds of crimson and silver. 
Cold purple shadows rose in the east, crept slowly across the prairie, 
then rose in heights on heights of darkness from which the stars swing low and bright.
The wind, which all day long had blown strongly, dropped low with the sun and went whispering among the tall grasses. The earth seemed to lie breathing softly under the summer night. (67)
What a peaceful reverie within which to travel. Then the next morning as Laura is getting the first pail of water from the well:
Night was still shadowy in the northwest, 
but Silver Lake lay like a sheet of silver in its setting of tall wild grasses. 
Ducks quacked among the thick grasses to the southwest, where the Big Slough began. 
Screaming gulls flew over the lake, beating against the dawn wind. 
A wild goose rose from the water with a ringing call, and one after another 
the birds of his flock answered him as they rose and followed. 
The great triangle of wild geese flew with a beating of strong wings into the glory of the sunrise. 
Shafts of golden light shot higher and higher in the eastern sky, 
until their brightness touched the water and was reflected there. 
Then the sun, a golden ball, rolled over the eastern edge of the world. 
Laura breathed a long breath. (71-72)
It is these detailed descriptions of nature that make me remember what I miss so much about living in the country. The natural landscape is so calming and contemplative in its own right...
Aunt Docia gave them a cow and Lena and Laura got to see each other when they would stake their respective cows out to pasture for the day, and when they milked them both morning and evening. This was the first time Laura had lived very close to relatives since Wisconsin, and it was exciting for her! (She is a 'social butterfly,' this one!) Lena suggested that if only they could get the ponies for the day they could ride out to see where the men were working. Pa had strictly forbidden Laura and Carrie from even walking in the direction where the men were working, stating that they were rough talking, etc., so Laura was glad "[s]he did not have to decide whether or not she would disobey Pa, because they couldn't do it anyway." Ha! Sounds like my reasoning at times! Then when Pa offers to walk Laura out there one afternoon, because she "asks too many questions," 
"Oh, Pa!" Laura cried out.
"There, Laura, don't get so excited," Ma said quietly.
Laura knew she should not shout. She kept her voice low. "Pa, can Lena go too?"
"We will decide about that later," said Ma. 
And, of course, Ma lectured Laura afterward about acting civilized, to speak nicely in a low voice, etc. Sheesh! I believe in teaching children to use their "indoor voices," but really! When you're excited...well...you're excited! Man, I would be in trouble a lot, even as an adult! :) I was rather impressed with Laura's critical thinking skills as they were watching the railroad crew at work. She realized that someone had to "think this up" before the process of building a railroad could even begin. Smart child! It was a very intricate and well-timed process, with never a 'missed beat,' so to speak. And Laura promised to "see it all out loud" for Mary when she returned. Though Mary, in her prim and proper tone, commented,
"I really don't know, Laura, why you'd rather watch those rough men working in the dirt than stay here in the nice clean shanty. I've finished another quilt patch while you've been idling." 
But Laura was still seeing the movement of men and horses in such perfect time that she could almost sing the tune to which they moved. (107)
I love that Mary and Laura are so very different, just as my oldest two sons are. I was definitely more like Laura--I always wanted to be outside until I got to be about 13 or 14 years old. Though I bet if I had had an adult male around to learn from by working on the farm, etc., I would have been doing that! 
Laura tells of one time when they had to hide the payroll money. Ma placed the bag in a clean cloth and worked it down into the open flour sack--'in plain view, yet hidden,' as is recommended. It seemed that neither Laura nor Pa slept very well that night, worried about the money. Then there was trouble at one of the railroad settlements and a paymaster (Pa's counterpart) was actually hung, though he survived without any real injury and eventually gave in to the workers' demands and opened the store so they could steal the stocked goods. Pa wasn't worried, convinced that Big Jerry would help protect him. 

There were so many game birds at the lake that Pa shot some each and every day for their supper, etc. Ma was glad that soon they would have enough feathers collected for another feather mattress for the girls to sleep on. One day Pa accidentally shot a beautiful white swan with an 8-foot wingspan. It was that hide with feathers that Ma managed to fashion into a gorgeous little winter hat and collar and cuff trim on a new winter coat of blue she crafted for Grace. I never cease to be amazed at the way nothing ever went to waste. Each piece of each animal killed for food was used in some way. So ecologically sound. So smart. Then there's the day he showed up with a dead pelican, another inadvertent killing on his part and when the bird's mouth opened and out fell fish in various stages of decay, everyone was grossed out by the stench! 

When the opportunity arises, both Laura and Pa want to move further westward, or as Pa says, 
"You and I want to fly like the birds. But long ago I promised your Ma that you girls should go to school. You can't go to school and go west. When this town is built there's to be a school here. 
I'm going to get a homestead, Laura, and you girls are going to school." (126)
"Another thing, Laura," said Pa. "You know Ma was a teacher, and her mother before her. 
Ma's heart is set on one of you girls teaching school, and I guess it will have to be you. 
So you see you must have your schooling." 
Laura's heart jerked and then she seemed to feel it falling, far, far down. She did not say anything.
She knew that Pa and Ma, and Mary too, had thought Mary would be a teacher. 
Now Mary couldn't teach, and--"Oh, I won't! I won't!" Laura thought. "I don't want to! I can't."     Then she said to herself, "You must."
She could not disappoint Ma. She must do as Pa said. She had to be a school teacher when she grew up. Besides, there was nothing else she could do to earn money. (127)
Arrrggghhh! My heart went out to poor little Laura! Yikes! To be told what vocation you will pursue as a youngster of 13! No allowance for personal preference or anything. It reminded me of Almanzo's offer of a wheelwright apprenticeship and his parents allowing him to select for himself. Although Laura's point about lack of career/money-making options for women rang true, also. But still... 

As wintertime approaches, the railroad crew moves on and the Ingalls move into the Surveyors house which is now abandoned. It is a solidly built home with ample supplies, so everyone is thrilled...until the 'homesteaders' start moving into the area. There is no town, no house, nothing other than the one house where the Ingalls family lives and they are basically forced to care of those who have traveled out to where 'De Smet' will be built, but have no place to eat or stay in a place protected from the weather. Although Ma and the girls manage to make money at this once they start charging, there is little profit to be had once they have used all the supplies they had on hand and must purchase food, etc. Every day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner they would have scads of 'visitors' to feed and give a place to sleep, even if it was just the floor, at least it was protected from the weather. Honestly, I had never considered such a situation--people traveling out to settle new territory and once they arrive there is nothing, until they make it or discover it. Reading this series, as well as recently rereading My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George, has made me consider such things again. It is amazing how completely 'spoiled' we can become! 

Though Pa almost waited too long to file for a homestead, due to not wanting to leave Ma and girls alone with all these strangers coming in and out of their house,if not for his old friend Mr. Edwards fortuitously appearing and stepping in at the last minute, he may not have gotten one at all, let alone the one he wanted! Pa was smart enough to 'speculate' on real estate by building his own store in town with the intention to sell it at a large profit. However, once he discovered he MUST go ahead and file for a homestead, he moved the family into this 'store' (actually an unfinished building at the time) in town once the Surveyors had returned to live in their house and the railroad folks had moved on further west. until they could have enough shelter on the homestead to actually live there. However, it was simply a skeleton building and the cracks between the wood hadn't been filled, etc., so much so, that Pa had to shovel the snow off the girls as they lay in bed that first morning!! I could so relate to Laura's thoughts about living in town:
...in all the hustle, bustle and busyness of the town there was no one that Laura knew.
She did not feel all alone and happy on the prairie now; she felt lonely and scared.
The town's being there made the difference. (247-248)
I have debated this through the years with various people I've known, whether you feel safer and more at ease in the 'country' or 'town.' Needless to say, give me fields and livestock for neighbors and I am MUCH happier than living amongst people. I so agree with Laura! "G]ive me the wolves," though I've not knowingly lived among wolves I have certainly lived close to coyotes, herons, cattle, hogs, etc., and much prefer them! 

Once Pa learns of squatters taking over a man's homestead claim and then killing him for it, he demands they move to their own homestead claim the next day, It is as they are leaving town in the wagon to move to the shanty on the homestead claim that they see two "beautiful horses" driving a wagon into town. When Laura asks, Pa says those two are 
"...the Wilder boys...Almanzo's driving, and that's his brother Royal with him. 
They've taken up claims north of town, and they've got the finest horses in this whole country. 
By George, you seldom see a team like that." (262)
So I wonder just how much those horses will play in Laura's decision to 'like' Almanzo! ;) And it would seem Almanzo did change his mind and decide to do his farming out west, not back on the family farm in the east! Of course, their parents may well be dead now and that farm no longer theirs. Who knows? Perhaps we'll find out in the next book! 

Pa is really so thoughtful. Since the girls had been talking about missing trees, he purposefully digs some seedlings up and brings them home to plant by the homestead shanty. I loved Pa for his realization that "Checkers is a selfish game...for only two can play..." Then he would get out the fiddle so everyone could 'play' together and enjoy the same activity. Pa was a smart guy in many ways. Not only could he manage to put up a shanty with a cellar in just one day, he could manage the social aspects of a family admirably! Especially for a man in this time and place. 

I can rather see why this one book won so many awards. It really did demonstrate much of what it was like on the frontier for the new settlers/homesteaders! Farmer Boy is still my favorite, though I believe this one is now a close second among the series so far!

We are now more 
than halfway through 
this nine-book series! 
For June 
we will read 
I admit that as we get 
further along in the series
I miss the detailed descriptions
of the more primitive processes 
like churning the butter, etc.
Though I still enjoy them all!

Have you read any of these with us?
Or do you have any memories 
from having read them to share?
We would love to hear your thoughts!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Pickwick Papers Read-Along Check-in #3: May 2016


 This event is the brainchild of Behold the Stars
We are reading The Pickwick Papers exactly as others did 180 years ago!
This was published in a serial format, so every month another 2-3 chapters
were published and readers had to wait until next month for the next installment.
It is fun to think that we are replicating history in this regard and 
that I will have finally read a Dickens book! 
Here is my Read-Along page where you can view the reading schedule 
as well as read a bit about my reticence with regard to Dickens. 
I do realize that this book is not especially typical for this author. 
In fact, I believe it safe to say it is considered 
to be rather an outlier among his published works.
Which is sad, since I am immensely enjoying his humor!

I believe I have mentioned before that 
I truly appreciate this Oxford Illustrated edition 
I checked out from the library. 
I highly recommend it! 
This month we are reading Chapters VI-VIII.
We find our four gentlemen, Messrs. Pickwick, 
Snodgrass, Tupman, and Winkle, being introduced and introduced to all those already esconced at Manor Farm. 
It seems to be quite a diverse crew, headed by the matriarch 
and owner of Manor Farm, Mr. Wardle's mother. 
Although she is unable to hear much of anything, 
talk of card playing gets her full attention! 

As they play, I was reminded of playing euchre with my ex-husband. I despised playing with him as my partner, and learned early on not to do so. I would always try to have someone else as my partner, 'cause he just didn't care. He. Would. Play. Anything! Seriously, anything! While I didn't care about winning/losing, I did want to play the best game I could play, given my cards and the order of play. So I could rather relate to the fat gentleman's frustrations with Mr. Miller. Though these Pickwickians evidently take their card-playing quite seriously!
The rubber was conducted with all the gravity of deportment and sedateness of demeanour 
which befit the pursuit entitled 'whist'--a solemn observance, to which, as it appears to us, 
the title of 'game' has been very irreverently and ignonimously applied...Mr. Miller...
not being quite so much absorbed as he ought to have been, contrived to commit 
various high crimes and misdemeanors, which excited 
the wrath of the fat gentleman to a very great extent... (69)
I was literally laughing out loud as I read this passage! Dickens' use of such pretentious language is so funny! 

At one point, the clergyman, by popular request, tells of "the convict's return." There was a man who was mean and nasty with absolutely no friends.
...I do firmly and in my soul believe, that the man systematically tried for many years to break her [his wife's] heart; but she bore it all for her child's sake, and, however strange it may seem to many, for his father's too; for brute as he was and cruelly as he had treated her, she had loved him once; and the recollection of what he had been to her, awakened feelings of forebearance and meekness under suffering in her bosom, to which all God's creatures, but women, are strangers. (74)
Mrs. Edmunds and her son regularly attended church, though they were "both poorly dressed--much more so that many of their neighbours who were in a lower station--they were always neat and clean." The boy is convicted of crimes and imprisoned and the mother dies not long after this event. Some 17 years later the "convict" returns to a different village, with no one he can recognize. As he walks through the churchyard...
The man's heart swelled as he crossed the stile. The tall old elms, through whose branches the declining sun cast her and there a rich ray of light upon the shady path, awakened the associations of his earliest days. He pictured himself as he was then, clinging to his mother's hand, and walking peacefully to church. He remembered how he used to look up into her pale face; and how her eyes would sometimes fill with tears as she gazed upon his features--tears which fell hot upon his forehead as she stooped to kiss him, and made him weep, too, although he little knew then what bitter tears hers were. (78)
Dickens could certainly write! 
The last soft light of the setting sun had fallen on the earth, casting a rich glow on the yellow corn sheaves, and lengthening the shadows of the orchard trees, as he stood before the old house--
the home of his infancy--to which his heart had yearned with an intensity of affection 
not to be described, through long and weary years of captivity and sorrow.  (81)
Though he did see his father and initially grabbed him by the throat, "his arm fell powerless by his side." For he was, after all, his father. The old man did end up dying then and there from a "ruptured blood vessel," however. He worked for the clergyman for three years before dying and being buried in the corner of the churchyard, with no one other than the clergyman being aware of his identity. This is the second rather morbid story Dickens has inserted into this rather nonsensical absurdity of a book. I kinda wonder why, except perhaps to insert some bit of 'reality,' morbid as it may be? 

Upon rising the next morning at Manor Farm, 
The rich, sweet smell of the hayricks rose to his chamber window; the hundred perfumes of the little flower-garden beneath scented the air around; the deep-green meadows shone in the morning dew that glistened on every leaf as it trembled in the gentle air: and the birds sang as if every sparkling drop were a fountain of inspiration to them. Mr. Pickwick fell into an enchanting and delicious reverie. (82)
At this point I grew quite nostalgic for my own version of country life from the past! On this same morning, we find all four gentlemen called out to accompany their host...as he prepares to go "rook-shooting" with none other than Mr. Winkle! Winkle again! When Mr. Pickwick is asked to confirm Winkle as "a very good shot," he replies
I've heard him say he's a capital one, but I never saw him aim at anything." (83)
I'm thinking to myself, "Uh-oh..." Later, at his host's urging, 
Mr. Winkle...took up the spare gun with an expression of countenance which a metaphysical rook, impressed with a foreboding of his approaching death by violence, may be supposed to assume. It might have been keenness, but it looked remarkably like misery. (83-84)
Ha! I sense disaster in the offing... Winkle finally shoots, and
There was a scream as of an individual--not a rook--in corporeal anguish. Mr. Tupman had saved the lives of innumerable unoffending birds by receiving a portion of the charge in his left arm. 
To describe the confusion that ensued would be impossible. (85)
But then of course Dickens does just that! We get all the details in the immediate aftermath of the shooting, including how Mr. Tupman "opened first one eye, and then the other, and then fell back and shut them both..." Ha! The drama!! 

The boys all head into town for a grand cricket match, sans Mr. Tupman, of course, who was unable to accompany them due to his shooting wound, and the ministrations of the spinster aunt which he wouldn't miss for the world... And whom do they run into but "Jingle--Alfred Jingle, Esq., of No hall, Nowhere!" Again! I'm convinced this Jingle will be wherever the Pickwickians are forever into the future--he is a moocher extraordinaire who has found his 'marks'! :) These men proved to be some real party animals, toasting each other seemingly for hours, etc. It is during this time that Mr. Tupman sets his sights on one female of the group:
The young ladies were pretty, their manners winning, 
their dispositions unexceptionable; 
but there was a dignity in the air, 
a touch-me-not-ishness in the walk, 
a majesty in the eye of the spinster aunt, to which, 
at their time of life, they could lay no claim, 
which distinguished her from any female 
on whom Mr. Tupman had ever gazed. 
That there was something kindred in their nature, 
something congenial in their souls, 
something mysteriously sympathetic in their bosoms, 
was evident. (96)
However, Mr. Tupman decided he must know,  
...had her agitation arisen from an amiable and 
feminine sensibility which would have been 
equally irrepressible in any case;
or had it been called forth by a more ardent 
and passionate feeling, which he, 
of all men living, could alone awaken? (96)
Oh, yeah...I'm laughing out loud again! 

That was SOME "salmon'!
Finally, at about 1AM the males return to 'the fold'/Forest Manor--"under the influence of the 'salmon,'" so they say! This, following the Fat Boy's discovery of Mr. Tupman and the spinster aunt in a rather compromising position on the arbour seat in the garden! Mr. Jingle impresses all the females by being charming and ingratiating, particularly in contrast to the drunken obnoxious behaviors of his 'friends,' who had not had nearly as much to drink as had he. (This Jingle could obviously hold his liquor, huh?) :) And he is the first down to breakfast the next morning, entertaining all the 'girls,' much to Mr. Tupman's chagrin! Once the old lady is made aware of Miss Rachael's (her own daughter's) misbehavior with Mr. Tupman, she is appalled and angry! As Mr. Jingle overhears this conversation, he resolves to use it to his advantage to win over the spinster aunt, Miss Rachael, just as he had decided to do upon meeting her the prior evening, especially as he "had more than a strong suspicion that she possess that most desirable of all requisites, a small independence." Ah, yes, this guy's a real swindler, just as I had suspected! He is a sly rascal who lies to them both in order to extract his own 'rewards,' not the least of which is the ten pounds he 'borrows' from Mr. Tupman, promising to repay him in three days' time. Uh-huh...sure...

Ah, to what hilarity and drama will we be treated in the 
next three chapters IX-XII next month? 

I'm assured to laugh, at least once in reading three more chapters!