Monday Ponderings {August 13th}

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In the rush and noise of life, as you have intervals, be still. Wait upon God and feel his good presence; this will carry you evenly through your day’s business.

~William Penn

{I saw this quote at the end of one of my favorite books, A Charlotte Mason Companion, by Karen Andreola. Being still is a choice, one that I need to continually purposefully cultivate. It is so refreshing. Just leaving the phone upstairs, sitting by the window with my coffee, or going on a walk by myself.  Think of how much more NOW this applies than in Mr. Penn’s lifetime…all the screeching voices we could hear today via media, if we choose to listen. We are free to turn them off.}

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July Reads

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Hello, Dear Readers,

It’s time for last months reading recap!

East of Eden by John Steinbeck (****) – This is one of my Back to Classics picks for the year in the Author that’s New to Me category.  Wow! This was an amazing book and my first Steinbeck. The nature descriptions are wonderful and I enjoyed his rich prose and insightful, detailed observations. It started off very dark and depressing as we are introduced to Cathy, later known as Kate. She is one of more disturbing people I’ve read about in literature in a long time! Towards the end, I feel like I was able to feel a twinge of compassion towards her or at least a teeny bit of understanding. As we went along, I started to see some of the “retelling of the Genesis story/Cain and Abel” feeling, as our characters battle the internal good and evil in their lives and with their families. This follows two generations of two families and weaves in and out in a beautiful way as they struggle to survive their parents and as parents, their upbringing, and finding their purpose in life. They battle the question of is our tendency towards good or evil inherited or a choice? The weight of this question is felt heavily in each person’s life.  I felt like I got to know the characters deeply and that many of their questions were universal. I loved Lee, the Cantonese servant, and eventually friend and caretaker to Adam. I loved, loved Samuel, the dreamy, distracted friend of Lee and Adam. I realize this is a crazy, all over the place review, but it’s hard to describe. Beautiful, recommend with caveat that it does have a lot of darkness: prostitution, language, and suicide.

Mathematics: An Instrument for Living Teaching by Richele Baburina (****) – This is a reference book for how Charlotte Mason approached maths and her words gathered together on mathematics and laid out in a very helpful way. I skimmed some of this, but found it very interesting and plan on referencing it in the future.

The Selected Journals of L.M. Montgomery, Vol. 1: 1889 – 1910 by L.M. Montgomery (*****) – I absolutely loved this look into Maud’s life as a young teenage girl, growing into a young engaged woman. The angst, temptations, and frustrations of the growing years were the same as many of us go through, but this was unique peek into a woman’s life at the turn of the century. Maud’s life with her grandparents was very rigid, so it was fascinating to see how she escaped into books and nature. I don’t care what Maud said, her own personality comes through in Anne and her other characters SO much! 😉 I can’t wait to read the next of these! I think there are five of them.

The Reckoning at Gossamer Pond by Jaime Jo Wright (****) – A strong 3.5 stars! This was a page turner! Mysterious, full of awesome creep, and I loved the Edgar Allen Poe vein throughout. I also loved the newspaper setting in Libby’s world and coffee shop in Annalise’s life. I felt very interested and connected to both Libby and Annalise, both in their respective mysteries and time periods. The growing affection between Libby and (well, I won’t spoil it) was done well, not too cheesy, but slower and more natural.

The White Witch by Elizabeth Goudge (*****) – Interesting, dark story about the English Civil War and the wrestling with good and evil in all of our lives. How the love of God and others trumps darkness. Fascinating look at Royalists, Puritans, class divisions, and the Romani peoples. Gardens and herbs are prominent in this book which was beautiful and piqued my interest in it all the more. This took me a LONG time to get into, you have to be very patient with Goudge, but she will reward you many times over, if you hang on.

Hiking Naked: A Quaker Woman’s Search for Balance by Iris Graville (*****) – I picked this up off my non-fiction library new shelf and I’m so glad I did. This is the memoir of a full-time nurse, who is burned out, and knows she and her family need a change from their fast paced lives. They end up moving to a small village in Washington State, North Cascades. They really begin living pretty primitively and work hard at odd jobs in the tourist season. Through it all, Graville journals, hikes, and just really searches her heart about what is important. I appreciated that her and her husband had a normal, yet good marriage. The only thing I didn’t like was once in awhile it felt a teeny bit whiny and I’m not a Quaker, so some of that was vague to me, but over all really enjoyed this story about her life and family.

The Pleasure of Reading: 43 Writers on the Discovery of Reading and the Books that Inspired Them edited by Antonia Fraser and Victoria Gray (*****) –  That title says it all! Ha. It was just lovely (for the most part) essays from writers on their lives and reading. I read this pretty slow, but really enjoyed it. At the end of each chapter, each writer shares a list of a few favorites. I was surprised how many lists had Alice in Wonderland on their lists! I think it’s time for a reread.  🙂

Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction by Ursula K. Le Guin (***) – I really enjoy the first half of this book, just about fantasy writing and the importance of imagination. The second half was forwards she wrote for her books and she gets more defensive of some of her gender neutral writings etc. I found it to get a bit too whiny and possibly preachy?

The Little Library Cookbook by Kate Young (*****) – I read this on a road trip and was positively charmed by the recipes and memoir reflections of Miss Young’s life. One of reading and and feasting created to compliment her favorite stories. Many of the recipes were drool worthy and weren’t TOO difficult (except for a few) for the average home cook. Just LOVELY.

The Benedict Option: A Strategy  for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation by Rod Dreher (***) – I found the beginning of this book absolutely fascinating as Dreher gives us a snapshot of how Christianity has fallen apart through the ages and a view of it in the United States. Not super in depth, but accessible to the normal reader, I appreciated this part a lot. I found some of his ideas very idealistic, yet I loved his hopeful tone and encouragement about cultivating community. I was a bit skeptical because I don’t love a lot of what you might label as “Christian self-help etc” type books, but overall, I liked this one.

Sailing Alone Around the Room: New and Selected Poems by Billy Collins (*****) – I just loved this collection of poems, revisited ones from Picnic, Lightening and The Art of Drowning, both which I read earlier this year. His poems are so REAL and concrete and so very universal. You feel like what he just shared happened yesterday to you. Yet, he surprises you, too, by his close, minute observations. I really am enjoying Mr. Collins.

The Holy Bible (*****) – I finished Psalms, digging into Proverbs, and read Matthew and Mark.

~

 

 

 

Anne of Green Gables: Chapters 21 & 22

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{continuing our reading}

For as much as Anne disliked her teacher, Mr. Phillips, these chapters open up in a hilarious attempt at forgiving him for his awful transgressions. Those being making her sit by Gil – ahem, a boy – and spelling her name WITHOUT an E. Avonlea is all aflutter as a new YOUNG minister with a pretty wife is replacing old Mr. Bentley, who has served as the minister for the past 18 years. Anne disliked him because he didn’t have an imagination. Mrs. Lynde is very outspoken about the position being filled with the right person and I found it very hilarious that she was suspicious of pretty minister’s wives.

Anne wholeheartedly falls in love with Mr. and especially, Mrs. Allen. Marilla secretly wants to one up the other hostesses and invites them over for tea. Anne begs to make a cake (oh dear, can you see where this is headed?) and Marilla begrudgingly allows Anne to decorate the table with flowers, as she slyly mentions Mrs. Barry’s flower arrangements. My mouth is watering at this delicious description, except perhaps for the mention of cold tongue. I just ADORE foodie descriptions in literature, don’t you?

“…We’re going to have jellied chicken and cold tongue. We’re to have two kinds of jelly, red and yellow, and whipped cream and lemon pie, and cherry pie, and three kinds of cookies, and fruitcake, and Marilla’s famous yellow plum preserves that she keeps especially for ministers, and pound cake and layer cake, and biscuits as aforesaid and new bread and old both, in case the minister is dyspeptic and can’t eat new. Mrs. Lynde says ministers mostly dyspeptic, but I don’t think Mr. Allan has been a minister long enough for it to have had a bad effect on him. I just grow cold when I think of my layer cake. Oh, Diana, what if it shouldn’t be good! I dreamed last night that I was chased all around by a fearful goblin with a big layer cake for a head.”

p. 172

Anne wakes on the day of the tea party with a cold and quickly proceeds to make her cake. Marilla sees a peculiar expression on Mrs. Allen’s face as she tastes in and quickly takes a bite. In the end, it really was Marilla’s fault, as she put anodyne liniment in a vanilla bottle! Poor Anne couldn’t smell it because of her cold. Anne flees to the attic and wails in despair to someone who she thinks is Marilla. But it turns out to be her dear Mrs. Allen. They are fast friends after that!

“Marilla, isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?”

“I’ll warrant you’ll make plenty in it,” said Marilla. “I never saw your beat for making mistakes, Anne.”

“Yes, and well I know it, ” admitted Anne mournfully. “But have you ever noticed one encouraging thing about me, Marilla? I never make the same mistake twice.”

“I don’t know as that’s much benefit when you’re always making new ones.”

“Oh don’t you see, Marilla? There must be a limit to the mistakes one person can make, and when I get to the end of them, then I’ll be through with them. That’s a very comforting thought.”

p.177

Mrs. Allen then invites Anne for tea at the manse and she is in raptures over it. Marilla tries to get her to manage her emotional highs and lows better. I loved this part…

“For Anne to take things calmly would have been to change her nature. All “spirit and fire and dew,” as she was, the pleasures and pains of life came to her with trebled intensity. Marilla felt this and was vaguely troubled over it, realizing that the ups and downs of existence would probably bear hardly on this impulsive should and not sufficiently understanding the equally great capacity for delight might more than compensate.” p.178-179 emphasis mine

Anne returns home just starry-eyed and “under a great, high-sprung sky gloried over with trails of saffron and rosy cloud”.  She is full of news and gossip about various people, but the biggest one is the coming of a lady teacher (which Mrs. Lynde disproves of, of course.) Her name is Miss Muriel Stacy.

Here is one more of Montgomery’s hauntingly beautiful passages…I love this so much:

A cool wind was blowing down over the long harvest fields from the rims of firry western hills and the whistling through the poplars. One clear star hung above the orchard and the fireflies were flitting over in Lover’s Lane, in and out among the ferns and rustling boughs. Anne watched them as she talked and somehow felt that wind and stars and fireflies were all tangled up together into something unutterably sweet and enchanting. p. 180

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June Reads

Happy July, Readers! I’m catching up after being on holiday, so things are a little behind, but that’s ok. Here is what I finished up reading in June ~

1492117  Formation of Character by Charlotte Mason (*****) – It’s hard to review these as a whole, because each section is jammed packed with interesting and wise tidbits about educating children, parenting, and frankly, I learn a lot to meditate on about all of life. It takes me a LONG time to read these, unless I’m reading with a group. This volume of Miss Mason’s is unique, in that it gives chapters that serve as examples with problems one might face in different situations or children. I highly recommend. Be forewarned, once you finish, you may want to turn right back around and read it again, because there is SO much goodness in here.

35489103   The Landscapes of Annie of Green Gables by Catherine Reid (*****) – Gorgeous book of photos, quotes, and brief history on L.M. Montgomery and the island she loved so much. I highly recommend for an Anne of Green Gables or Montgomery fan!

35505416  Across the Blue by Carrie Turansky (***) – I won this on a blog, which was so nice, because I didn’t even know I was entered! Ha. In the end, I’d give this a 2.5-3 stars as the topic was interesting, a fictional story based around the first man to fly over the English Channel. I loved the different angles, including a mystery. The breaking societal norms for a upper class woman feels like it is been written about over and over, and the romance was predictable.

The Night Circus The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (****) – 3.5 – This was beautifully written, crazy, and unique. I loved the dark, yet twinkly feel to this book. I mostly felt sorrow for how badly Celia was treated by her father and Marco also by his adoptive guardian. It showed clearly that abuse can manifest itself in many different ways, through outright violence and anger or manipulation and careful, calculated control. (More of my review here if you are interested!) 

20170404 Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (****) – Fascinating and intriguing look life after an epidemic wipes out most of the world’s population. Sounds depressing, doesn’t it? It isn’t because it’s told through the voice of a troupe of actors who travel around giving Shakespearean plays. Sobering and beautiful, sad yet strangely hopeful, I enjoyed the creative way St. John Mandel wrote this, wrapping up many veins well at the end.

The Color of Magic (Discworld, #1) The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett (****) – This fantasy/sci-fi classic has been on my list for awhile and I was so enchanted by Discworld and the amazing characters that Pratchett created. Not sure if I will go on to read all the Discworld, as I think there are 40 or more of them! I’m tempted to try book two. If you want a crazy unique, light story, check this one out!

Serve It Forth Serve It Forth by MFK Fisher (****) – I’ve been wanting to read Fisher since I’ve enjoyed Julia Child’s and Peter Mayle’s foodie memoirs. This did not disappoint! Just random chatting about the history of food, stories about meals she shared, and delicious food descriptions. I will be reading more from her!

The Dark Is Rising (The Dark is Rising, #2) The Dark is Rising (Book 2 in The Dark Is Rising Sequence) by Susan Cooper (****) I love Middle Grade and Young Adult Classics and this is a fantasy classic that is underappreciated I think. This is a reread and I enjoyed it just as much as the first time. I recently reread the first one, Over Sea, Under Stone, and am planning on slowly continuing through this series. If you enjoy English myths, fantastical battles between good and evil, and children on daring adventures, you will LOVE these. If you are giving these to children, I would say they are on the darker end of fantasy. Just FYI.

Smoky-House Smoky-House by Elizabeth Goudge (***) – Ahh! I love your stories so much, Elizabeth dear. This one was a sweet children’s story about a widower and his five children, and a mystery surrounding their inn, the Smoky-House. This one was sweet mixed with strange about Free Traders on an English coast. It was not my favorite of all Goudge’s, but I loved the three animals and how they were major characters of the story, and we were able to hear their conversations.

Discovering the Character of God Discovering the Character of God by George MacDonald (*****) – I absolutely love Mr. MacDonald’s belief on who God is as our loving Father. There are a few things that are vague and a few things I may argue with him on, but overall, I was so encouraged and challenged by this wonderful book. It took me a very long time to read, because I wanted to go slow and it’s not something you can read quickly. This is set up with three part chapters: his poetry, commentary, and a section from his fiction – all tied together with a topic for the chapter.

Five on a Treasure Island (Famous Five, #1) Five on a Treasure Island (The Famous Five Series, Book 1) by Enid Blyton (*****) – I’ve been wanting to read this series and I really enjoyed this lovely story of three cousins who meet and stay the summer with their cousin and her dog. Full of adventures and lovely English sentiments, I can’t wait to read more and share them with my children, also.

The Divide (The Alliance #2) The Divide by Jolina Petersheim (****) – This was the sequel to The Alliance which I read last month and I enjoyed the conclusion to the story of a Mennonite community struggle for survival in a dystopian society. This one was a little darker and had a sad undertone to it, but overall I was enthralled and it raised a lot of questions on how far you would be willing to go when defending your love ones and battling starvation. Not a light read, but interesting!

Stillmeadow Seasons (Stillmeadow Series, #3) Stillmeadow Seasons by Gladys Taber (*****) – I finished my current Taber read, as I always have a little bit of her memoirs going. She is so lovely, simple, and hearkens back to the days of living off the land, following the seasons, and the beauty and value that can be found in homemaking. I don’t think I have any new Stillmeadow books to work on, so I might need to search around online for one. *ahem* 😉 I do have one about her father and one about her later years, living in Cape Cod.

Assassin's Apprentice (Farseer Trilogy, #1) Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb (*****) –  Don’t judge this one by it’s ugly cover! Another high fantasy classic that I just learned about. This was a wonderfully, full, richly constructed world and characters. I can’t wait to read the others in the series. This is written in older, beautiful language, feels like a mystery, adventure, within the confines of feudalism, and the intrigues of the court and common people.

Holy Bible: King James Version The Holy Bible (*****) – Isaiah and some of Psalms.

 

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Gather Round {June 23rd}

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{I truly wish we could all ‘gather round’ and chat about life, relationships, education, books, and our passions. Please grab a mug of steaming coffee or pour yourself a cup of tea, and get comfortable. I enjoy being a ‘fly on the wall’ so to speak, reading about people’s lives, plans, or just what’s generally happening. I’d like to share that occasionally (every, fortnight, or so) here under this title. I’m not sure how it will play out, but I’d like to give it a go. I will post headings so that if you only have a few moments, you can scroll right to what interests you. I love conversations, don’t be shy, please chime in.}

Previous fly on the wall moments:  😉  check out past installments here. 

Domesticity ~ My sister-in-law gave me a delicious baked mac ‘n cheese recipe, which was met with rave reviews. It’s been rainy and cool, after a few scorching days, and I love the sweet, mistiness, so this was a perfect treat for lunch. I think I could serve it for dinner, also, by adding a large salad or other side. My friend gave me some chicken curry seasonings packets that she picked up from an Indian grocery, so I hope to try those soon. Bananas are plentiful around here, so due to the cooler weather, I’ve been able to make banana bread more often. My children are in rapturous delight about that development. I’ve been looking for a cross-over back apron pattern, preferably free, as I feel in the mood to sew up a new apron, and possibly start on gifts. We have the two last birthdays of the eight we have here at Hearth Ridge, so I’ve been thinking about surprises for those.

Education ~  We are finished up with just about everything EXCEPT two Plutarch lessons. We will finish those next week as soon as our Texas family visitors leave to travel onto more family. There are some other things I’d like to do before we begin again in September, so we just do them here and there, throughout the summer holiday. I’d love to take an home education online course sometime, but still trying to figure out how that would work to carve out an hour weekly HERE, due to the noise levels. I am all registered for a Charlotte Mason home education retreat in the fall and I’m highly anticipating that, although I don’t want to wish away the summer breezes too soon.

Writing ~  I’ve been working on a few things for the local journal and I’m working on a poem for a dear heart who asked me to write one for her. I have one or two essays noodling around in my brain for the blog. One poem and piece I still have out on submission and am waiting to here if anything comes from them. I’m thinking on how to breathe a breath of fresh air into this online space and it’s been exciting to think about ideas. What do you like to read here? My fiction characters are chattering away at me, whispering crazy things, and delightfully hanging about, but I haven’t done much with them beyond just talking to them here and there. And that’s ok. Seasons.

Reading ~ I have ever so many lovely titles sitting here, all raising their hands, shouting, “Pick me, pick me!” and so I plug ever onward through my To Be Read Never Ending Pile. It’s so delightfully pudgy and I just could faint from all the wonderful stories and goodness that there is in there. I’ve been revisiting my favorite author EVER, Maud Montgomery, often, and I have some old favorites that I’m just dipping into here and there. For instance, I’m almost through Goudge’s lovely Pilgrim’s Inn for the third ? time. Swoon. I’m excited to keep plugging away at my various choices for the Back to Classics readers group I signed up for…I plan to take Les Miserables on my vacation later this summer and give it a little more TLC. So, I will continue to wade in deeper and deeper, pushing aside the beautiful waves of pages and wonder. Come save me if I start drowning, will you please?

Sillies & Sundries ~  I just loved this podcast about Favourite Romantic Couples in Fiction, a perfect listen, from my favoUrite British podcast ladies, Miranda and Sophie.

Cheerio, lovelies.

~

Anne of Green Gables: Chapters 17 & 18

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{continuing my S-L-O-W as molasses rereading of this favorite}

In Chapter 17, we find Anne still reeling over her forbidden friendship with Diana. They secretly meet and Diana shares that her mother will not forgive Anne for setting Diana drunk. 😉 Marilla is her funny self, not sharing too much sympathy for Anne’s outrageous sorrow over this injustice.

“I don’t think there is much fear of your dying of grief as long as you can talk, Anne,” said Marilla unsympathetically.  p. 113

She decides to go back to school (I forgot that she wasn’t going? I don’t remember why. Maybe just the sadness over the lost friendship? They let you out of school for that?) and bury her sorrows in study. Everyone is glad that she is back, she is a lively and imaginative addition to the otherwise boring school day.  She is very much rebuffing any overtures of friendship on Gilbert’s part, even an glorious apple left for her. Diana and her pass a few secretive notes, basically saying Diana is not allowed to talk or play with her at all.

Anne throws herself passionately into her studies trying to beat Gilbert at everything.

“She was as intense in her hatreds as in her loves.”

Geometry and Anne do not mix at all and she is in “the depths of despair” over it.

Chapter 18 finds Marilla off to see the Canadian Premier with Rachel Lynde, so Anne and Matthew are taking care of Green Gables.

A humorous and heartwarming conversation in the cheerful kitchen happens between them and as they are chatting, Diana bursts in, hysterically crying about Minnie Mae being ill.

Anne is as cool as a cucumber, bragging a bit about her knowledge of croup, believing now that she knows why she had to deal with Mrs. Hammond’s three sets of twins. For this moment of glory alone, it was all worth it.

Maud Montgomery’s nature descriptions shine here again:

“The night was clear and frosty, all ebony of shadow and silver of snowy slope; big stars were shining over the silent fields; here and there the dark pointed firs stood up with snow powdering their branches and the wind whistling through them. Anne thought it was truly delightful to go skimming through all this mystery and loveliness with your bosom friend who had been so long estranged.” p.142

Anne does help Minnie Mae and Matthew brings the doctor, who congratulates her on her quick thinking and for saving Minnie’s life.

Marilla comes back and in her cool, calm way shows Anne her pride in what she did by serving up a delicious meal, with the added treat of blue plum preserve. She calmly holds back that Mrs. Barry had been there, gushing in thankfulness and contrition. Anne finished the day in a rapture, as she is invited to dinner with the Barry family.

 

Here is a podcast on Women’s Friendships in Story and it has an interesting look at Anne and Diana’s friendship! I highly recommend it!

~

 

 

Monday Ponderings {June 4th}

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The Holy Midnight

Ah, holy midnight of the soul,

When stars alone are high;

When winds are resting at their goal,

And sea-waves only sigh!

 

Ambition faints from out the will;

Asleep sad longing lies;

All hope of good, all fear of ill,

All need of action dies;

 

Because God is, and claims the life

He kindled in thy brain;

And thou in him, rapt far from strife,

Diest and liv’st again.

 

~ George MacDonald

~

 

May Reads

The Wonderful Wizard of OZ

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz – L. Frank Baumillustrated by W. W. Denslow and originally published by George M. Hill Company, Chicago (1900)

“I have always thought myself very big and terrible; yet such small things as flowers came near to killing me, and such small animals as mice have saved my life.” ~Cowardly Lion

 

 

 

How was your reading month? I got some good ones finished and I’ve started many titles that promise to be lovely. My stack is heavy on non-fiction right now for June, which is very unusual for me. I’m trying to find more fiction in the fantasy genre that is based more in myth, legends, and folklore. Please share if you have any good titles that fall in the description. Here’s what I read in May:

The Story of the Trapp Family Singers by Maria Augusta von Trapp (****) I read this for my Back to Classics by a Woman Author category. I found it heart-warming and pretty funny at times. I especially loved Mrs. Trapp’s hilarious explanation on their attempts at learning English and also the lengths she would go to hide her pregnancies.  I was amazed at the Trapp family’s resourcefulness and determination. It dragged just a bit for me, but overall, a good story. By the way, the movie is only slightly inspired by the real Trapp family’s life, very little of it is true.

The Alliance by Jolina Petershiem (****) Amish/Mennonite dystopian, anyone? Ha. I’ve read my fair share of Amish inspirational novels in life, so I was bit skeptical about this one, but I was pleasantly surprised. The characters were interesting and multi-faceted and it had intriguing premise.  If something big happened to our power grid or our society’s basic structure (that heavily relies on technology and electricity), who would be more adapted to handle that type of world? This title didn’t shy away from the dark side to people when faced with desperate situations and it didn’t have pat answers or solutions for tough things. This is a page turner with well-drawn relationships, fast paced action, and hard questions.  Older teens and up as it has violence and other disturbing images.

Moonheart by Charles de Lint (***) – I really enjoyed this story, well-written, good characters, and beautiful settings, urban Canada into an Otherworld. I love Mr. de Lint’s ability to create intriguing, mysterious settings, memorable characters, and amazing creatures. He did extremely well with creep. I want to give this five stars as it was close to perfection in what I love about the fantasy genre. My only hesitation has to do with my Christian faith as this is heavy on occultism in a way that really is hard to reconcile. I also really disliked heavy swearing. I can usually read something that isn’t to my taste and just throw out anything I don’t agree with, but I can’t recommend this book without reservation.

Fictitious Dishes: An Album of Literature’s Most Memorable Meals
by Dinah Fried (****) – This was a lot of fun. A combination of photo art and sentiments by Fried about memories of food in fiction she has read. I really enjoyed this and also found some new books and authors to check out. This was short and sweet, a nice break from all my long books and huge stacks. I heard about this book on a lovely podcast called Tea & Tattle.

The Wood Wife by Terri Windling (***) – This was a beautifully written book about Maggie Black, a writer, who inherits her mentor’s home in Arizona. She finds herself drawn to and inspired by the harsh, yet beautiful landscape around her. A mystery surrounds the death of the poet who’s home she now calls her own. Heavy on spirit-ism, Native Peoples religious beliefs, and occultism, so I recommend with reservation.

Touch Magic: Fantasy, Faerie, & Folklore in the Literature of Childhood by Jane Yolen (****) – I enjoyed this short, inspiring book on writing and exploring the fantasy genre. There was one chapter I warmly disagreed with, but it wasn’t anything horrible, it was just a preference of mine. Over all, I really enjoyed this.

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro (****) – This is one I’ve wanted to read for a long time and a few online friends read it in the month of May and discussed it here. I found it sad and multi-layered. After reading his The Buried Giant, I feel like I walked away from both of these, with more questions then answers. Stevens is a faithful butler who is out on a long-over due holiday, thinking back over his long career and who he is as a person. Thought-provoking. I’m sure I will get more out of this on subsequent readings.

The Art of Drowning and Picnic, Lightening by Billy Collins (****) – I immensely enjoyed these two books of poetry. They are written in engaging, yet simple style, but meaningful and hugely layered. I was astonished at the beauty of some of his close, minute observations of daily life. He renders the littlest bits of our lives in a grand universal way, yet he was so approachable. I can’t wait to read more from him! Here is a TED talk by Mr. Collins that I enjoyed. 

The Holy Bible (*****) – Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Hebrews, 1-3 John, Jude, and Revelation.

On Fairy Tales and Fantasy

Wodwo or Wild Man of the Woods by Martin Schongauer 15th century engraving

Wodwo or “Wild Man of the Forest” by Martin Schongauer, 15th Century Engraving

“What am I? Nosing here, turning leaves over
Following a faint stain on the air to the river’s edge
I enter water. Who am I to split
The glassy grain of water looking upward I see the bed
Of the river above me upside down very clear
What am I doing here in mid-air?”

(beginning of the haunting poem “Wodwo” by Ted Hughes)

     What inspires and moves you? What makes you feel most alive? For me, I find inspiration in all of life, in the little details of the salad my daughter and I are tossing, or even in the way the light shines on our book shelves. I find beauty in my faith, in nature, and mostly, dear literature. My favorite fiction being fairy tales and fantasy. Something about these stories, echoes the faith I have that this world is not my real home. There is something waiting that is better and perfect. Now for clarity, I’m referring to older fairy tales, folktales, and the writings of fantasy giants like J.R.R. Tolkien and his buddy, Mr. Lewis. While fantasy, and all the sub-genres, are more readily available these days, and in some ways a bit more accepted as literature, I’m afraid I haven’t found much that I love and find value in, as I have from the classics. There seems to be a key ingredient missing in most modern fantasy, but what that is, I’m not sure I can pinpoint one main thing. I’ve been thinking about another small funny thing about my love of the fantastical. It has mainly been cultivated in my young adult and not-so-young adult years. That’s right. I’ve grown to love fairy tales and fantasy as an adult.  What may seem like a waste of time and an odd choice for an adult to be reading, has, in reality, been water to the parched soil of my imagination. Recently, I pulled off the shelf one of my most favorite books on family culture and home education, Bequest of Wings: A Family’s Pleasures With Books by Annis Duff. This book was published in 1944, but I find much of it strangely relevant for my life today. While Duff and I differ in our beliefs, I can pull out so many gems of glorious beauty.

In Chapter Fourteen, Mrs. Duff lays out a defense for fairy tales, and I found it fascinating. She is referring to the idea that many look upon the ideas in fairy tales or fantasy with what Anatole France described as, “looking upon the imagination with mistrust.”

Children do not as a rule make this mistake; they are not so rigidly habituated to the distinctions that grown-ups make between what is probable and possible and what is inconceivable and contrary to reason.  They still possess the faculty of imagination that makes room for miracles, perhaps because the marvelous novelty of the world and of living has not yet worn off. The trouble with grown-ups is that they take things too seriously. Where children read fairy tales-and they do read them-just for fun, grown-ups often tend to theorize about ethical, social and cultural values until all the juice is squeezed out.

I just love that last line. “Until all the juice is squeezed out”, indeed. As an adult, working backward through the mystery of fairy tales and fantasy, I’m finding a world in which I can make sense of life. I can untangle just a small fraction of the ugliness of reality in this world and partake of beauty not of this world. It makes sense to some inner sensibility in me as a part of the wonderful creation of God. It’s the stark, brutal, horrible world with its insane pace, unreasonable standards, and true falsity that seems strange to me.

Duff goes on to say the importance of truths about darkness seen at a slant in fairy tale:

It is not a particularly healthy thing for children to read about killing. Killing is not a healthy business. But it goes on just the same, and I think that reading about the matter-of-fact way that people have of disposing of their adversaries in fairy tales has perhaps helped to “condition” my daughter to withstand the shock of hearing and reading about the impassioned massacre that men indulge in nowadays. Children, after all, are a part of this world, and however little we and they like some aspects of it, it will not help to draw the veil over the unpleasant things. I know that with my own daughter there is no danger of developing a calloused point of view. Accepting a situation that you cannot do anything about for the moment is quite a different thing from absolving yourself of responsibility for the future, and it is possible that the knowledge that men from time immemorial have killed each other may be the basis of a practical method of discovering how to stop it. 

Fairy tales teach us about ourselves and others:

My impression is that people in fairy tales behave pretty much as people do in real life. Some live by high principles, some are given over to evil ways; some are kindly in disposition, others practice meanness and persecution. Some go adventuring, some stay at home…And in fairy tales each type, with the action that represents it, is brought to life objectively, emphatically and consistently. Fairy tales do not “condone” behavior that is contrary to ethical principle. They simple recognize the fact that it occurs.

Let’s read that again, because I love it so much.

Fairy tales do not “condone” behavior that is contrary to ethical principle. They simple recognize the fact that it occurs.

Duff goes on to talk about how the characters presented in fairy tales often give her daughter something to draw on, saying so-and-so is like a certain character, for good or for evil. This helps us to turn from that which we dislike and see as wrong and turn toward the good, beautiful, and true. Fantasy generally doesn’t tell us wrong from right, but shows us both sides, leaving us to choose, an important part of life.

Here she discusses, specifically the fairy tales of Hans Andersen, and I think it’s worth thinking about:

… the great beauty and enduring value of Hans Anderson’s Fairy Tales is that they show life as it is, birth at the beginning and death at the end, and a whimsical mixture of laughter and tears in between. I do not understand why it should be thought right or necessary to shield a child from the knowledge that death is the inevitable, the logical, the adventurous end to living…This idea must grow by slow and comfortable degrees, and I know of few things that show the way more simple and sweetly than Hans Anderson’s stories. He does not twist things away from their natural direction in order to bring about a happy ending, and I think that children feel the dignity and tranquility of his rounded episodes. Tragedy, in Andersen’s tales, is never shocking; he is gentle and patient in teaching children that life does not always have a happy face, and his sense of proportion is so delicate that he never overburdens his readers with sadness. The persuasive feeling of quiet confidence and conviction of the rightness of things as they happen flows steadily through Hans Andersen’s Fairy Tales, and I know it is helping out daughter to form her philosophy of acceptance of the naturalness and inevitability of death and sorrow. 

Not all fairy tales and fantasy are created equal, as I touched on earlier, especially, unfortunately, the modern genre. However, even in the classics, my children and I have found stories that were too grim for us. Ironically, some of these were from Grimm’s fairy tales. Some of it might find its origins in myth and folktale that is contrary to our faith. Yet, beauty can be found everywhere. I might argue that true beauty is all from the same Source, no matter the conduit that it comes through. We use discernment, but we also don’t live by fear. All of it, everything we partake of, we hold lightly, snapping up the good, and setting aside what doesn’t resonate with us. As Duff says, the ideas in literature “must grow by slow and comfortable degrees”, and I can’t agree more.

What are you inspired by? Do you enjoy fairy tales and the fantasy genres in literature?

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April Reads

Vilma Reading on a sofa_ by Frantisek Tavik Simon (Czech 1877-1942)

“Vilma Reading on a sofa” by Frantisek Tavik Simon (Czech 1877-1942)

I was able to read some lighter fiction this month and finish some of the ones I’ve been dipping into for awhile now. The weather is turning glorious, so one must push oneself off of one’s backside and out of doors. 😉 I’m still plugging away at my selections for the Back to Classics reading community, but haven’t finished any more of them. I’ve been dipping into more Children’s and YA literature and I always fall back in love with it. Recently, I finally read a Moomin tale and found in charming. Do you enjoy Children’s or YA for yourself? WARNING: YOU ARE ABOUT TO BE SUBJECTED TO A VERY TALL PILE OF BOOKS. PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK. 

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde (***) – I tend to rate books immediately upon completion very emotionally. I initially rated this a bit higher, but bumped it down a bit after I thought on it awhile. I’m not sure why I do this. This was silly and eye-rolling fun. I enjoyed the creativity of this story very much! It had a predictable plot, swearing, wonderfully wonky puns, and some ridiculous cliches, but the truth is, I just want to escape through a Prose Portal and visit with Jane and Mr. Rochester. The End.

Wodwo by Ted Hughes (****) – This is a collection of poems, short stories, and one play. It was weirdly wonderful. Hughes use of words is beautiful and he paints beautiful word pictures. I didn’t always understand the themes or subject of the pieces, but overall, I was enchanted by his word wizardry. My favorite poem of all, and one I’m super inspired by, is the title poem, “Wodwo”. I actually heard of this mythical creature from Robert MacFarlane’s Instagram account and googled the term. I was intrigued and chased it down, finding this book by Hughes.

Upstream: Selected Essays by Mary Oliver (***) – There were parts of this that just made my soul sing. I especially loved the opening essay, “Upstream”, and there were words and thoughts and phrases that were just so beautiful. The rest was just ok and a bit strange and rambly. I really should reread and jot down words and phrases for future contemplation.

Oath of Honor by Lynette Eason (***) – This was an inspirational thriller with a side of mystery and romance. This title was intriguing and fast paced. I suspect that there are many others in this series or previous books that introduced the family of law enforcement officials, because I felt a little confused about details about the main characters, like it was assumed I knew about them a bit already. Over all, very well done, the villain/mystery was well-hidden and the romance not too bad on the cheese-o-meter.

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (****) – This has taken me months to get through because it was heart-wrenching in many ways. Wow. I hated this book so much I loved it. This is an achingly beautiful account of The Belgian Congo and a family torn up by Pharisaical religiosity, racism, sexism, and as many other “isms” that Kingsolver could think of and fit into this book. This is the first book that made me cry in a long time and I will never forget it. Even though I strongly believe the author made sweeping, prejudiced (ironically, the very thing she eloquently rails about in this book) blanket judgments of things she abhors (or at least seems to based on this novel), there is SO much to appreciate about this and pull away from it. Highly recommend if you can read it with a grain of salt and a willingness to look at yourself, shaking off deeply ingrained things that aren’t right.

Hourglass: Time, Memory, and Marriage by Dani Shapiro (*****) – If you remember last month, I finished another of this author’s titles, Still Life: Pleasures and Perils of a Creative Life, and thought to try another soon. This was a short and easy stroll. Just subtle and lovely look at how fast time flies and longevity in marriage (ironically, this is the author’s third marriage, BUT I want to believe the best about people, right?! Marriage is hard, but that’s what can make it good). It was poignant and it made me think.

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert (**) – This was another Instagram FAIL. I was so disappointed after a promising beginning. Longer review here if you are interested, but slight spoiler alerts.

Crosstalk by Connie Willis (*****) – SLIGHT SPOILER! The daily workings of a telecommunications company may not sound fascinating, but oh wow, they are when you have Willis writing about them. The new craze is a medical implant supposedly to increase your emotional connection to your partner. Briddley, a young employee, is thrilled and astonished by the attention lavished on her by one of her bosses Trent, and now he wants to get this implant with her! The weird tech department guy won’t stop warning her about the dangers of this procedure, and her big crazy Irish family won’t leave her alone.  Continued review here!

Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende (***) – (GRAPHIC CONTENT IN THIS BOOK – READ COMPLETE REVIEW BEFORE READING!) I have a bit of a book “hangover” from this title. Brutal and honest look at life during the colonization of Saint-Domingue (Haiti) and the Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic) by the French and Spanish. This follows the life of a young slave Tete and her masters and the people she encounters in her life from her mother’s origins in Africa, enslaved to Haiti, ending up in Louisiana. It touches on Toussaint Louverture and his impact on the Haitian Revolution.  Continued review here! 

The Lost Castle by Kristy Cambron (****) – A strong 3.5 stars! This was a beautifully written inspirational historic romance. Three different women’s stories carefully woven through the generations of the countryside of France. It takes you through the French Revolution, WWII, and modern day with ease and fluidity. The romance was SO well done, tasteful and slow, I’m so happy to find an Christian author like this. I can’t wait to read more from Cambron. This title reminded me a bit of Kate Morton’s style. The ONE thing I didn’t like was there were a few “neat” bows-tied up, but I’ll forgive it, because I really enjoyed it.

Plot & Structure: Techniques and Exercises from Crafting a Plot That Grips Readers from Start to Finish by James Scott Bell (*****) – I think that title says it all. No need for a review. Ha. This was simple, straightforward, and I loved learning about what it takes to craft fiction. Wowsers. Go shake an author’s hand, will you, please? This is a great resource, wonderful for revisiting parts over and over again, and I’m sure I will, as I continue to learn and grow.

Moomins and the Great Flood by Tove Jansson (*****) – This was absolutely charming story of a little family of critters searching for their loved ones and forever home. They meet a whole bunch of fascinating friends on their journey. Gorgeous, whimsical illustrations with just the right amount of creep.  I want to move into Moominvalley with them!

Yonder by Margaret Bell Houston (*****) – My dear friend gave me a copy of this book this past weekend and I gobbled it up. Written BEAUTIFULLY and with such a wonderful blend of mystery, romance, and creepiness. A young woman Olive lives through a horrible tragedy and needs to begin again. She ends up as a companion to a young woman suffering from acute mental illness brought on by a sudden horrific event in her life. She lives in a castle on an island in the Florida keys filled with old, hidden memories, creepy handicap sister, and old, withered father. A mysterious servant Ezra is always in the shadows, as Olive tries to help the beautiful Zoé, the atmosphere and place creeps into her being. Olive finds herself healing and growing through the most unlikely friendships. This is full of lovely atmospheric bits, delicious haunts, and old pirate ghosts floating through the halls. I could feel the salt spray on my face and taste it all. I dug around a bit I found out the author is the granddaughter of Sam Houston, of Houston, Texas fame. Interesting!

The Holy Bible (*****) – working slowly through Proverbs, Hebrews, James, 1 & 2 Peter, 1 John.

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Happy Birthday, dear Elizabeth Goudge!

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Can I introduce you to a dear friend of mine? Elizabeth Goudge. A gorgeous writer who has touched me profoundly. She is in my top five favorite authors.  Someone who you cannot read quickly, you must simmer and savor. Today I celebrate her birthday and like to think of her with a glimpse of the English countryside outside her window, pen scratching the paper, sipping tea, creating unforgettable stories for us to enjoy. They are sweeping, deep, with many layers, and you can reread them over and over and take away something entirely new each time. My favorites are A City of Bells, A Dean’s Watch, and A Pilgrim’s Inn (formally, Herb of Grace, which I like better). Have you read any of her books? Join me today in remembering Miss Goudge! Many happy returns!

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February Reads

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Happy March 1st! My area still has a bit of winter left, but March always brings a gentle promise of the green to come. February was a busier month for me, so I didn’t finish as much. I think I have heavier books on my stack genre and topic wise. What did you finish? I’d love to hear!

The Lost Plot by Genevieve Cogman (***) – This is the fourth book in The Invisible Library series.  I’m a speculative genre fan and I’ve just recently learned that there is a lot that falls under this heading, depending on who you ask. Sci-fi, fantasy, dystopian, magic realism, and so on. I love the fantastical world Cogman has created with the Librarian’s and library being a portal to other worlds to collect rare books to keep the worlds “in balance”. The dragons and fae are intriguing and mysterious. This title was slower, more conversation between Irene, Kai, and Evariste, another Librarian. A dragon throne comes up empty after a mysterious murder and dragon factions are wanting to fill the coveted position. Irene must keep neutral while searching for a rogue Librarian who may have crossed professional lines. Irene is finding neutrality increasingly hard with her assistant Kai, as he is a dragon himself. Vale, the mysterious human police detective wasn’t really in this title, which was strange, as he has played big roles in the previous other three titles. The romantic tension between Kai and Irene, picked up, especially in Irene’s head. Cogman did a really good job of that tension, although it’s been dragging along in the same fashion and I’m sick of the snide “get you into bed comments” from Kai. Overall, I found this to be an entertaining, fun read. I think there is to be a fifth book in this series and I’m looking forward to seeing how Cogman ties everything up. Are you a speculative fiction reader? I know it might seem odd since I write memoir and poetry mostly here, but in fiction I like strange escapism generally.

Stillmeadow Sampler by Gladys Taber (*****) – This title I’ve been reading for about a year and a half. She split this memoir into four parts following the seasons and I read it slowly, making myself read only in what season I currently was in. So with a few months of setting it aside, it took me awhile. Gladys did not disappoint. I found this last bit of reading through the winter chapters of life on her Stillmeadow farm, housework, neighbors, reflections on nature to be charming, meditative, and just beautiful. Taber is one of my five favorite all time writers. I’m still chuckling to myself, because she is pretty much the POLAR OPPOSITE of the above fiction title I read.

The Market Square by Miss Read (*****) – Another of my favorite genres is British family-ish type fiction. Miss Read is the master of beautiful settings and lovely characters that you come to love and care about. Sometimes not much happens, but you still keep reading anyway. This title was a bit different from her Thrush Green and Fairacre series in that it was a bit more sad and darker than those. Two friends grow up together and their families are inseparable until a change in the economy forces a wedge. Misunderstandings, class, race, morality, the World Wars, all test the true friendship between these two men as their lives move on. This was slow start for me and it took me awhile to get into it, but once I did, I loved it. So much to think on and consider and I won’t forget this story! I think this might be a series, but I haven’t checked into it yet.

The Long Journey to Jake Palmer by James L. Rubart (***) – I have mixed feelings about this title. Jake Palmer has it all on the surface, until a freak accident, leaves him burned from the waist down. His wife leaves him and he has to face his demons. Through a series of events, he ends up follow a legend about a portal that will heal and give you your wildest dreams. I found this title intriguing, the writing beautiful, and it did make me think. However, there was just something about it that struck me weird or forced. This was written for the Christian market and it made me think sort of a retelling of Jacob wrestling with God mixed with a magic realism approach.

The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis (*****) – I absolutely loved this book about a bus ride between Heaven and Hell and the conversations between “Ghosts” and “Beings”. I found it just lovely and amusing that George MacDonald was Mr. Lewis’s Being. The theology and thoughts were thought-provoking, challenging, and absolutely beautiful.

The Holy Bible (*****) – 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and continuing to dip in and out of the Psalms.

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