Books and Stories

18 Books I read in 2018

Happy New Year! 2018 was a year of reading for sure! Last year, I kept almost perfect track of every book I read. Some of them I shared a bit about on Instagram or this blog, but I thought it would be the perfect time to share 18 brief book reviews for some of my favorites.

Most of them are middle grade/ young adult fiction. Not surprising, since I love to read from those genres. Without further ado, and in no particular chronological order, here are the reviews:

Middle Grade/Young Adult 

Poppy by Avi: A young deermouse lives under the authoritarian rule of her father and the terror of Mr. Ocax, the owl. After her beloved Ragweed is eaten by Mr. Ocax, Poppy begins a journey to find a safer dwelling for her family. A tale of courage and wit, this is book 2 of a 6-book series and can stand on its own as well.

Feathers by Jacqueline Woodson: Set in the 1970s, this story about Frannie records her school and home life and a growing self-awareness. The title is taken from ‘s poem of the same name about hope. Hope is exactly what Frannie seeks, while watching her brother Sean face disrespect for his deafness, her mother struggle with a pregnancy after miscarriage and loss, and school dynamics between queen bees and bullies. The class is unsure of the strange new student. Full of loving, realistic family dynamics, this book explores African-American life, biracialism, and discrimination. It’s a gentle, thoughtful and thought-provoking story.

The Grimm Legacy by Polly Shulman: Elizabeth begins a new high school and starts a job at a lending library, where she soon finds out about a mysterious collection with strange abilities. Someone with evil intent is out to get the collection. Can she and her new friends stop them in time? This book was fun to read and I enjoyed the unusual premise. Elizabeth’s gift for “smelling” magical objects was interesting. The antagonist was a bit two dimensional and I kind of rolled my eyes at yet another YA book with a romantic subplot. Seriously, it’s ok for not every protagonist in this genre to fall in love…overall, though, if you like fairy tales and fairy tale elements, mysteries, chases and a good dose of humor, you’ll enjoy this one.

Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi: Aru Shah is a liar. She wants to fit in at her middle school. Her mom isn’t always there for her, and she so badly wants a friend.  One day she releases a demon sent to awaken the god of death, and Aru Shah must embark on an epic quest where she will encounter gods and goddesses, beasts and strange houses (yes), and maybe even her own truth. This book was hilarious! It reminded me a lot of Rick Riordan’s books (he writes the intro to Aru Shah). Chokshi’s book is inspired by the Mahabharata, the Hindu epic poem. And also probably by middle school. I highly recommend!

If Wishes Were Horses by Anne McCaffrey: In this novella, Tizra is the teenage daughter of a magician who holds the village together under a nearby threat of war. While her village leader father is off fighting in battle, Tizra learns resourcefulness, leadership, and perseverance from her remarkable mother. Ok, so I liked some of the unusual things about this book. A mother, probably middle-aged, is the heroine of the story. Her magic is subtle and not the focal point, yet she is a powerful woman (total Enneagram 8, for all you personality type people like me): fearless, resourceful, and holding so much together, even when that means the entire village moves into your home and you have to clothe them in the dead of winter.  I didn’t like how, even though it’s told from Tizra’s perspective, she seemed more like a means for the reader to see what was going on, rather than a three-dimensional character herself. Not fast-paced, but it stood out to me for it’s unique qualities.

Murder at Midnight by Avi: Young Fabrizio simply wants to be useful to his master, Magnus the Magician, but the grumpy old man complains about him more than he acknowledges his help. Though Magnus claims he is not truly a magician, as magic is outlawed in the city of Pergamontio, that does not keep him from getting caught in a political trap that may end in his death. Is magic truly involved? Fabrizio must find out to try and save his master before it is too late. This is a fun, fast-paced adventure-mystery.

Castle in the Air by Dianna Wynne Jones: The sequel to Howl’s Moving Castle, this story follows Abdullah’s adventures that lead him from his home country of Rashpuht all the way to Ingary. He searches for his beloved princess, Flower-by-Night, encounters djinns, ruffians, cats, and more, as he is aided by a magical carpet. He is clever, and a bit of a romantic. If you liked HMC, read this. If you have or haven’t read any books by DWJ, read this. The foray into the desert country and Eastern-esque culture was delightful, and it’s full of twists and humor.

The House of Many Ways by Dianna Wynne Jones: The final book in the series also begins with a different protagonist. Set in Ingary, it follows Charmain Baker’s housesitting adventures. If the house bends space and time, one might have more of a challenge than usual. Like CITA, Howl and Sophie enter the scene towards the end, but by then I’d fallen in love with the new characters and it all blended together masterfully.  (See above.) Of course, magical animals are present here too.

Murder Mystery

A Rule Against Murder by Louise Penny: I couldn’t find Still Life, Penny’s first in her Inspector Gammache series, so settled on this one. The only way this may have been a problem was in Gammache’s character himself. He seemed like a man who has already overcome his demons, almost annoyingly perfect: he’s got a loving wife, successful kids, a top career, access to a secluded and beautiful bed and breakfast visited by the wealthy (and in this case, troubled). Other than that, Penny’s writing is more than enough to make me want to track down the first books. Wow. Her skill with creating characters you alternately want to slap and hug is remarkable. Everything is highly nuanced, and I’ve never read a mystery novel that almost felt like poetry in places.

Sovereign by C.J. Sansom: I’d read the first two in this series, Dissolution and Dark Fire, last year, and let me say, I am hooked. Sansom’s Matthew Shardlake, a hunchback lawyer of Tudor London, finds himself heading to York ahead of King Henry VIII’s grand and expensive progress, where he will tend to legal matters. Naturally, a murder in York complicates issues, and political intrigue and danger ensue. I cannot express the skill and draw of Sansom’s writing. Not only does he make the period come alive in all its elaborate, fragrant, colorful detail, but he has created a multi-faceted protagonist that you can’t help but root for. Shardlake is often noted as melancholic and not without the faults that make a character seem real. He is also humane in a way that avoids feeling like the author took a 21st century character and put him in the 16th century. His personal suffering make him a sympathetic character. This book is paced so that I found it hard to put down! Sansom’s extensive research for the period that sent me on more than one Google search. I could talk a long time about this book, so consider this a recommendation.

The Cater Street Hangman by Anne Perry: This series opener begins with a killer terrorizing Cater Street in London, and Charlotte is caught up in it when a maid of her family household is found strangled. (Why ‘hangman’ is part of the title beats me, because even characters clarify that victims where not hanged but garroted. Shrug.) There is a lot of talk about the poor of London, but all the characters are middle class and up, so it felt like more telling than showing in this regard, though Perry did her research on the era. Still, I was mostly disappointed in this Victorian-era murder mystery/romance. Several characters, including Charlotte, made decisions that seemed very rushed and insincere. The whole ending was rushed and I would have loved to have read more about how everything wrapped up. The constable was pleasantly unusual and I thought Charlotte was enjoyably outgoing and flawed without being a pain, but sadly, I found the whole story lacking. But if you like Victorian society, light romance, and can overlook what appears to be an author’s rushed  attempt to finish a book, you might like this one.

The Tale of Hilltop Farm by Susan Wittig Albert: Part of a series that fictionalizes Beatrix Potter’s life at Hilltop Farm, which she purchased in the Lake District, this book fits easily into the ‘cozy mystery’ genre. In other words, the plot is slower, the death is peripheral, and there is very little if any character development for anyone. Animal characters form a subplot, which could have been cute but felt kind of Meh. I wanted to like it more (Beatrix Potter! The Lake District!), but it felt like more of a waste of my time. Maybe some day if I’m sick in bed (ha), I’ll hunt down the next book. Maybe.

Literary/ Miscellaneous 

The River Bank by Kij Johnson: Five stars for this one! I mentioned it on my Instagram account. The sequel to Kenneth Graham’s Wind in the Willows introduces new characters, specifically female mole novelist Beryl and her rather high-strung friend Rabbit. The two characters enter life on the river bank with all of its rhythms, surprises, and familiar characters. Johnson gently, masterfully allowing readers to questions assumptions about class, gender, and privilege. I’m glad I bought this one.

Thud! by Terry Pratchett: Part fantasy, part satire, this book is part of the extensive Disc World series. In a city nearing the anniversary of Koom Valley, an ambush of dwarves and trolls, a city inspector struggles to keep the peace. Then a ‘deepdowner’, a fundamentalist dwarf leader, is found dead, and his job gets that much harder, ending up in Room Valley itself. Pratchett is a genius with politics and humor. I laughed so much and found his parallels remarkable. For example, the deepdowners are dwarves that live so far below the city’s surface that they believe it does not exist, and they expect their females to dress as males. Any attempts to dress as female are punished at worst and frowned upon at best. Oh, and a board book plays a significant role. Just read it if you like good writing, satire, and/or fantasy.

The Round House by Louise Eldrich: I found this book through Kaitlin Curtice’s post of 25 books by Indigenous Authors You Should Be Reading ( a list I need to revisit). It’s about a young boy, Joe, who, after his mother’s attack in their Ojibwe reserve, goes looking for the perpetrator with his friends. Joe is a young teenager thrust into ugly realities, but he is all too familiar with life as a Native American in a country that wants to forget his ancestors’ ways of life and their own treatment of these people. Full of Ojibwe stories, sadness, humor, and pubescent sexuality, this is a masterful coming of age story. Eldrich is an excellent author and had me hooked even as the story genre isn’t one I would have picked up on my own. 

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrel by Susanna Clark: Wow, this book took all of six months for me to read! Clark writes brilliantly in the pastiche style, emulating the likes of Jane Austen and Charles Dickens. The setting is an alternate British history during the Napoleonic wars and follows the reclusive magician, Mr. Norrell, and his brash, talented student, Jonathan Strange, their meeting, parting, and reuniting. Female, African-British, and poor characters are frequently silenced throughout the story, and by the protagonists. Arabella Strange, Lady Pole, Stephen Black, and Vinculus all have integral parts to play in the story, especially the ending. If you can plug away at a 1000 page book, love detailed footnotes and aren’t looking for a fast-paced action story, you’ll find this book hugely rewarding.

Fire and Hemlock by Dianna Wynne Jones: I know, I know-another DWJ. The only book of hers I’ve read set in the 1980’s, it is nevertheless a fantasy novel full of twists, humor, and details galore. The story is based on two Scottish poems, Tam Lin and Thomas the Rhymer, and lines from one of these poems are quoted at the start of each chapter. I loved how those poems foretold elements of the story. It is confusing at times, one of those books in which you don’t catch everything in the first reading. Many consider it to be her masterpiece, and I can see why. Of all the novels I’ve read this year, this is one I’ll reread. 

Non-Fiction

White Awake by Daniel Hill: Part personal journey, part informational, pastor Hill shares what it means to be white in America and how Christians can follow Christ out of blindness into awareness on the cultural identity journey. He shares seven stages on this journey: encounter, denial, disorientation, shame, self-righteousness, awakening, and active participation. Eye-opening for those of us just beginning to learn about our nation’s history of racism and white supremacy (like me), gracious towards everyone, I think this should be read by every church. I can’t do this book justice in a little paragraph. If you are white, please consider reading it.  

Honorable Mentions

The Other Side: Shorter Poems by Angela Johnson

Revelation by C.J. Sansom

Heartstone by C.J. Sansom

Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson (reviewed here)

Westmark by Lloyd Alexander (reviewed here)

 

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Books and Stories

Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson

 

Jade is a Sophomore at a private school looking for her voice and place in the world. She leaves her friends and neighborhood and takes a bus five days a week to get there, aware that she does not fully fit in. She signs up for a mentorship program that allows her the chance for a scholarship. Her mentor, Maxine, misses the first meeting, to Jade’s disappointment and frustration. Jade wonders if the mentorship program is worth her time, if the women running it really get what girls like her want out of life, and learns to become fully herself in a world fraught with challenges.

Piecing Me Together is a story of friendship and family, racism and the contrast between wealth and poverty. It is the story of one young woman’s discovery of the power of art for self-discovery and bringing people together. Jade faces difficulties of learning to speak up for herself and decides what’s worth fighting for. This coming of age story brought me to tears several times. Watson’s story is powerful, real, and eye-opening, and the ending is hopeful and realistic.

Part of what makes this story so wonderful is that Watson never condemns any one person or any one side of any issue. It’s both the mentor and the mentee who offer wisdom. The old life and new lifestyle both offer healthy contributions to Jade’s life. There is good to be found in the wealthy and the poor. Real life reflects this kind of healthy weaving of disparate parts and Watson reminds us that when everything works together, we often have a healthier whole.  (Reviewed by Bradley Sides). From BookBrowse.com

Here are some quotes from the book. I tried to pick some that stood on their own, without the need for pages of context. Now I wish I’d taken a screen shot of the poem near the end by LeeLee, Jade’s friend. But I guess you’ll just have to read it yourself. 🙂

 

Books and Stories · The World We Live In

Through the Magnifying Glass: Racism in Beloved Books

I have been thinking about and writing this post for about a month and a half. As a reader, parent, and writer, it’s one of the biggest elephants in the room when it comes to books. Racism and xenophobia are prevalent amongst some of my favorite authors, but what do we do about it? Chuck them in the burning pile?

This post really began back in March when I read L.M. Montgomery’s Further Chronicles of Avonlea. I have read and loved many of her books, but this one short story collection I hadn’t read before. In it I revisited not just one of my favorite author’s delightful writing style, but prejudices and xenophobia as well.

At the end of the book, full of Montgomery’s humorous mishaps, reunited lovers, and a few other items that belong in their own class, Tannis of the Flats is the tale of a woman in the wilds of Canadian frontier who falls in love with the man who spurns her for a Canadian-born woman.

Oh my.

If I wasn’t aware of Montgomery’s xenophobia before (such as Marilla’s insistence that they only get a Canadian boy, and I’m paraphrasing), this story couldn’t leave anyone in the dark. In the small town where the story takes place, the native peoples are called breeds, or half-breeds if their origin is mixed. There is the stereotypically lazy, no-good native man. Tannis is the ‘heroine’ of the story, referred to as a ‘half-breed’, and has been distinguished by some education in Prince Albert, but it has only served to add

[…] a very thin, but very deceptive, veneer of culture and civilization overlaying the primitive passions and ideas of her nature.

The next paragraph is worse and further illustrates the fact that even a good education cannot make one of these “breeds” into a respectable person, and that their intelligence and value is already determined by their ancestry. They are not the white person’s equal.

Notice how the white woman in the story, at her point of choice, is portrayed:

The good, old Island blood in Elinor’s veins showed to some purpose. “Yes,” she answered firmly. “No, Tom, don’t object-I must go. Get my horse-and yours.”

I’m not sure if that “Island blood” is Great Britain or P.E.I.(probably Great Britain), but it makes the point.

Tannis is the hero of the story, not primarily because of her deeds, but because she overcomes her nature, her ethnicity, which is apparently the source of her evilness:

In a white woman, the deed would have been commendable. In Tannis of the Flats, with her ancestry and tradition, it was lofty self-sacrifice.

Anybody ever said that about a white person’s ancestry? With the possible exceptions of references to socio-economic class, I don’t think so.

Now the first time or two I read Anne of Green Gables, Marilla’s comments went over my head. That’s not really surprising as I’m privileged, and it took a few more obvious examples of racism for me to pick up on it in Montgomery’s stories. I think it was Alicia Montressor from the story “The Red Room” in Among the Shadows that first opened my eyes. The brooding Italian boy Neil Gordon in Kilmeny of the Orchard is another glaring example.

You know the saying, the victor writes the history? I’d say the same is true for much of literature.

Little House in the Big Woods and all Laura Ingalls Wilders’ books hold a place in my heart as the first novels I ever read. Pa and Ma’s pioneer spirit is admirable and inspiring. But what kind of language is used to describe the Native Americans? It’s the kind that caused her name to be removed from a children’s literature award.

I love many of the characters in C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, but have you noticed that an entire nation marked as the enemies of Aslan’s country are identified by their brown skin and culture reminiscent of Middle Eastern countries?

Likewise, the breathtakingly vast and detailed world of Middle Earth inspires many imaginations including mine. But what about the fact that, again, many of the human-like enemies of the good guys (who also happen to be referred to as “Men of the West”) are dark-skinned?

Sometimes people say that these authors were simply a product of their time, and we shouldn’t take these elements too seriously. If Montgomery and Tolkien are products of their time, well, so are we. Today, we know better. Try putting yourself in the shoes of someone of a different culture or with darker skin than yours and then try not to take seriously the fact that books with protagonists like you seem to be the development of recent decades or less, rather than centuries. Try to overlook the fact that most books written about people of color aren’t actually written by people of color.

As a mother and reader, I can think of two things we can do to address this. First of all, welcome and pursue people of different backgrounds. On social media, in stories, person to person. Listen to their voices. It’s not something to check off our list. And obviously you don’t have to be either a mother or a reader to do these things!

Secondly, I think we need to employ critical thinking skills when we read. I’m not going to hide Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books from my children. I’m not going to throw out Tolkien, Lewis, or Montgomery. But understanding how characters are portrayed is important. Understanding cultural context from the author’s point, even in fantasy worlds, is important. My friend and elementary teacher Tamara Russell offers three simple questions to consider when it comes to the voices present in any story. Even if you are not a teacher, you’ll find this (and her blog) to be informative and challenging.

You guys, I still have so much to learn. Sometimes I’m terrified of saying ‘the wrong thing’. I’ll admit I was sad, deeply grieved, when I began to see evidence of  racism in literature. I’d be lying if I said part of that wasn’t  because it be so much nicer/easier if life were simple and racism weren’t a thing? But it is real, people deal with it daily, and I can’t look away. If Jesus came with a message that included liberty for the captives and oppressed (Luke 4:18-19), then I cannot pretend to be blind to systems of thought and acton that uphold oppression. (There’s a lot to unpack there and I don’t have all my thoughts put together yet, but I’m not arguing that Jesus simply came to improve our life’s conditions. I hope that makes sense, but shoot me a question in the comments if it doesn’t.)

Later I’ll write about how these discoveries are influencing me as a writer. For now, here’s a fantastic article written by a woman and mother of color: Does Race Matter if Books, Like Anne of Green Gables, Touch Your Heart? 

As always, I welcome thoughtful, respectful comments and discussions.

Books and Stories

Waiting for the Magic by Patricia Maclachlan

My kids and I just finished Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. It always feels like an accomplishment to finish a book that big with them! Afterwards, I was more than ready for a shorter read-aloud. I picked up Waiting for the Magic by Patricia MacLachlan from the library.

Patricia MacLachlan is probably best known for Sarah, Plain and Tall. This story has its similarities: two siblings grapple with a missing parent. In Waiting for the Magic, the older brother, William, is the protagonist. The missing parent is the father, who has left the family for an unknown period of time. MacLachlan treats a difficult topic with just the right amount of gravity and gentle prose, and ties up the story with a neat, happy ending, which children may or may not be able to relate to.

The four dogs and one cat in the story provide much of the humor, along with Eleanor, William’s little sister. MacLachlan writes Eleanor’s dialogue like you’d expect a four-year-old to talk without being cliché-ic or annoying, and she gives the dogs and cat their voices without falling into some of the worn-out ‘talking pet’ themes in many books and movies. All of this illustrates and provides contrast for, rather than detracts from, William’s own internal struggles.

This sweet story belies MacLachlan’s skill for conveying childhood struggles through simple words and actions. I think, as a read-aloud, it might require a bit of audience awareness, because children who have experienced a parent walking out on them might find this story to be a reminder of how it didn’t turn out for them. Otherwise, I’d recommend it for sure.

Books and Stories

Westmark by Lloyd Alexander

Theo goes on the run when an attack destroys his master’s printing press and kills his master. Now a fugitive from the law, he travels through the country of Westmark, falling in with a con man, a revolutionary, and a girl with a gift for mimicking voices. Against the backdrop of growing political unrest, Theo wrestles with his own motives and actions: is he as good as he thinks he is, or is he a coward? Where does he stand in rising tumult?

Westmark is Lloyd Alexander’s first book of the trilogy by the same name. Plot driven, this is one of his largest and most complex casts of characters. Westmark is a land where cruelty and corruption have left their gruesome marks, making it one of Alexander’s darker books for young people. Despite this, Westmark showcases the author’s humor and clever turns of phrase, if somewhat less so than in his other books.

This short book packs a lot into its pages. As always, Alexander’s prose is sparse and vivid. Fans of well-developed inner conflict, action, and epic-type plots will enjoy Westmark. I’m looking forward to tracking down the other two books, The Kestrel and The Beggar Queen, this summer.

For a peek at a few of Alexander’s other books, read  this post about Tamar of  The Iron Ring. This post also has a few lines about The Arkadians and The Illyrian Adventure.

 

Books and Stories · The World We Live In

Phyllis Wheatley

(I know today is President’s Day, but in honor of Black History Month, I wanted to share a bit about this remarkable woman.)

The last time we went to the library, I found a fantastic book for kids on Black History Month and brought it home. I plan on reading some of it with them today since they’re off from school. One of the first people I looked for was Phyllis Wheatley, America’s first female African poet. I had been introduced to her beautifully stirring poetry last year. America’s Black Founders by Nancy I. Sanders provides a few brief but vivid insights into the poet’s life and times.

Phyllis Wheatley was separated from her family and enslaved in America as a young child. Intelligent and creative, her short life was full of unusual triumphs and devastating hardships.

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She wrote poetry inspired by religious subjects and nature, including several poems addressed to people who had lost loved ones. Her first poem was published when she was a young teen. Not many years later, an entire book of her poetry was published. She corresponded with abolitionists and became friends with them, playing a role in the fight for the freedom she did not know herself in her entrance to the country. Phyllis eventually gained her freedom and married, but even as a published poet, their lives were anything but illustrious or comfortable. Indeed, the skill and feeling that endure in her poems illustrate the kind of faith and vigor that must have sustained her in a painful and obstacle-filled life.

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You can read more about Phyllis Wheatley’s poetry, her involvement in abolition and her family, here.

Maybe in light of the fact that it is President’s Day, learning about these unsung, forgotten heroes who fought so hard for our country is just what America needs.

 

Books and Stories

Matilda Bone

Synopis

Matilda Bone by Karen Cushman is the story of a young girl in 12th-century England. Left by the monk who raised her at Peg the Bonesetter’s shop, Matilda finds her new life dirty, unholy, and lonely. Her knowledge of Latin and religion is of little use amidst the stinking, loud messes of town life. As she waits for Father Leufredus’s return, Matilda learns about healing of the body-and of her own heart.

Quoteworthy

…Matilda once again called for heavenly assistance: Dear Saint Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead, I do not like it here at the bonesetter’s, where it is cold and dark as a tomb. I pray you rescue me.

My child, she heard the saint replying, I understand your unhappiness, for I too was left in a cold, dark tomb. Of course, I was dead. Have courage.  (p. 8)

[Peg says:] “By Saint Kentigern’s Salmon, you are so priest-ridden that one might think you have nothing of your own to say.” 

Of course I do, thought Matilda. But I try not to say it. Father Leufredus wished her to subdue her will to God’s. And to his. And she struggled to do so. (p. 39)

My Take

This was my second read through of Matilda Bone and I enjoyed it even more this time. The protagonist has a clear character arc that is delightful to watch unfold amidst the colorful setting of Medieval medicine.

There is plenty of humor too. Aside from the comedy that ensues from the disparity between Matilda’s past and current circumstances, I found her conversations with the saints hilarious.

Cushman weaves purpose into every detail so that readers are immersed in the time period.  Matilda’s relationship to the church through Father Leufredus illustrates a lot about the church’s control of religion at the time. I love how Matilda learns to think for herself. I love the fact that her prayers change but do not cease. With Peg’s care and the friendship of others, Matilda learns that loving others will not make her unfit for higher things, but that loving others is itself a higher thing.


 

Books and Stories

The Squire’s Quest


Synopsis

Squire Terrence observes the arrival of both Emporer Alexander and a young unknown at King Arthur’s court. The following events lead him  across the map and into dangerous international intrigues. Power is not the only motivation, though. As Terrence himself observes, “people do mad things for love”.

Quotes

This time, I thought I’d share pages from the book rather than (spending time copying) lines. Pressed for time and all that. 

 

My Take

This is the 9th book in Gerald Morris’s series and the 6th I’ve read. I thought the plot of this one took a while to leave the ground, but once it did, it was full of Morris’s trademark wit and wisdom. As usual, things-and people- aren’t all they appear to be. The exception to this is Guinglain, the simple hermit whose small role nevertheless illustrates the theme beautifully. Morris pokes fun at courtly love, especially through Dinadan, the knight minstrel. His and Terrence’s sports-like commentary on the religious politics of a marriage between two empires is hilarious. Some of my favorite parts are the sections of humorous dialogue between Lady Sarah, Lady Eileen, and Terrence. This story has the broadest scope in terms of setting, traveling from King Arther’s court to Athens and beyond, but it doesn’t fail to see Terrence learn something about himself in the process.

Books and Stories

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

Synopsis

Gilbert Markham, a gentleman farmer, recounts the tale of the mysterious Helen Graham, a newcomer to the community with whom he falls in love. Readers get Helen’s first hand account of her past and the obstacles that lie between her and Gilbert.

Quotes

“Let me counsel you to leave this house as soon as possible…because it is painful to be always disguising my true sentiments concerning you, and straining to keep up an appearance of civility and respect towards one for whom I have not the most distant shadow of esteem[.]”

“I would not send a poor girl into the world, unarmed against her foes, and ignorant of the snares that beset her path; nor would I watch and guard her, till, deprived of self-respect and self-reliance, she lost the power, or the will, to watch herself.”

My Take

Of all the Brontë sisters’s books, I’ve only ever read Jane Eyre. There are quite a few similarities. This book was difficult to read at times. It’s a picture of moral disintegration, primarily among men, although there are evil women as well. The striking thing is the difference between the men and the women. The men are vicious and destructive; most women, save one, are petty and malicious at worst.

The most difficult thing for me was reading about one character’s incredibly selfish manipulation of his wife and her belief that she was bound to do everything within her power to redeem him. Honestly, I don’t know which one was worse. Anne Brontë, like Charlotte, challenged the belief that a woman’s pure influence served the purpose of saving her husband from evil, whether his own or that of the world’s. By carrying this to extremes Brontë illustrates the danger and falseness of such a belief.

Sigh. There goes another Brontë sister, writing another shocking piece of literature to challenge the status quo.

I almost didn’t find the end satisfactory-one character makes a full 180 by the skin of his teeth and I can’t say he’s my favorite protagonist by a long shot. (It’s probably not who you think it is.)  But it’s been a while since I read 19th century literature. The depth of language skill, style and imagery is why I will always love this genre, epic burns included.

Have you read The Tenant of Wildfell Hall? Or any Brontë book? Do tell!

Isn’t it a lovely cover (minus the glare)?
Books and Stories

All Things Laura Ingalls Wilder

Last summer I read Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder to my oldest children. Then a few weeks ago I came across a biography of the author by William Anderson. Anderson happens to be the leading authority on Laura. (How cool is that! Where do I get a job like his?)


The biography will tell you many details left out of the Little House books. For example, the Ingallses had already been west and back by the time of Little House in the Big Woods. 

There are other periods of her childhood not captured in her series that you’ll read about in Anderson’s biography. The period spent moving to and living in Burr Oak, Iowa, has been novelized by Cynthia Rylant. It is called Old Town in the Green Groves, and is largely based on Laura’s own notes. I read this one last year and found another thing I want to do when I grow up as a writer. Can you imagine the honor of adding to the narrative of one of America’s most beloved children’s authors? Another job I’d like one day…


Next there’s A Little House Sampler, a collection of writings by Laura and her daughter Rose Wilder Lane, again edited by Anderson. I haven’t read all of it yet but it’s quite enjoyable. Laura had many stories and articles published long before the Little House books, and Rose was a prolific author herself. “Rose Wilder Lane, by Herself” is a great introduction to the author. The self-described “check girl in a telegram office, telegraph operator, telegraph manager, […] newspaper feature writer” was also  “a land salesman, a housekeeper, a feminist, and a ‘parasite’ (p. 12)” among other roles.  Her life of travel and independence pays tribute to her parents’ influence while demonstrating her own tenacity.

“A Bouquet of Flowers” is a pleasant reminiscence by Laura about her earliest school days. “Let’s Visit Mrs. Wilder” is an interview of sorts for The Missouri Ruralist, the local magazine in which Laura published many of her essays. From memories of Pa Ingalls’s beloved fiddle to “Laura’s Land Congress Speech” to “The Faces in the Window”, a thrilling account by Rose, any Little House fan will enjoy both familiar and new stories in this book.

Last night I picked up a copy of Little House on the Prairie to read to my kids. Maybe we’ll even get through more than one book in the series before the year’s end.

If you are a Little House fan, I highly recommend picking up any of the books I mentioned. Also, check out William T. Anderson-not to be confused with this guy– for more reading.

(Maybe that’s why he dropped the ‘T’ on his later titles?)

Have you read any Little House books or related works?