Book Review: The Story Girl

story-girlI read The Story Girl by L. M. Montgomery for Carrie’s  L. M. Montgomery Reading Challenge.

It opens with two brothers, Beverly and Felix King, going to stay with their father’s extended family while he travels to Rio de Janeiro on business. The King family lives on the old family homestead, and Bev and Felix look forward to exploring all the old haunts their father has told them of. The branch of the family they are staying with includes a brother and two sisters, Dan, Felicity, and Cecily King. Another cousin, Sara Stanley, lives with a nearby aunt and uncle. Neighbor Sara Ray and hired boy Peter Craig round out the group.

Sara Stanley is called the Story Girl partly because there is another Sara in the group, but mainly because she has a unique voice and ability to enthrall children and adults alike with the way she tells stories. The book tells of the children’s interactions, adventures, and misadventures, and along the way Sara entertains them with stories. Some are family tales, some are local lore, others are fairy tales or classical stories.

The children range in age from 11 to 14, yet seem younger than children of the same age by today’s standards.

I wondered if one reason Montgomery told stories about children was because she could explore issues through a child’s innocence, lack of experience, and questioning that she might not feel quite the freedom to with adults. For instance, in one chapter the cat is unwell, and some of the children think one of the women in the village put a spell on him when he yelped because she accidentally stepped on his tail. Some don’t think so, but they agree that they need to make an appeal for her to remove the spell and explain that he didn’t mean any harm. They also get some medicine down him, and pray. When he gets well, they argue about whether it was the spell removal, the medicine, or the prayers that cured him. “Thus faith, superstition, and incredulity strove together amongst us, as in all history.” In another, one of them finds an article in the newspaper reporting that someone in the USA predicted the date for Judgment Day. They argue over whether it’s true and what to do about it and respond in a variety of ways.

One story that disturbed me a bit was a legend about how the Milky Way came to be (in the chapter “A Daughter of Eve”). As the story has it, two archangels fell in love, which God did not allow among angels, so He separated them to far sides of the universe. But they loved each other so much, they each began building a bridge of light toward the other, not realizing the other was doing the same. When they met, some of the other angels reported it to God and asked him to punish them. He said, “‘Nay, whatsoever in my universe true love hath builded not even the Almighty can destroy. The bridge must stand forever.” It’s not the fanciful story that bothers me so much as the thought planted in reader’s heads that there is something God is powerless against. In another part of the book, the children wonder what God looks like until finally one of them finds someone who says he has a picture of God in a book at home, and they buy the picture from him for 50 cents. When they see it, they’re sad and dismayed that He looks old and “cross” and intimidating rather than friendly and inviting. They all process this in different ways until they finally ask the minister, who assures them that, though no one really knows what God looks like, He assuredly does not look like this. He tells them to bury the picture. They’re relieved, yet,

We had lost something of infinitely more value than fifty cents, although we did not realize it just then. The minister’s words had removed from our minds the bitter belief that God was like that picture; but on something deeper and more enduring than mind an impression had been made that was never to be removed. The mischief was done. From that day to this the thought or the mention of God brings up before us involuntarily the vision of a stern, angry, old man. Such was the price we were to pay for the indulgence of a curiosity which each of us, deep in our hearts, had, like Sara Ray, felt ought not to be gratified.

To me, planting that thought from the other story that God is powerless against true love does the same thing. Even though we know that’s not true, that thought keeps coming to mind.

But most of the stories and happenings are much lighter. There is a lot of charm in the stories, and I particularly like LMM’s characterizations and how the children play off each other. But there is a bit of a sharp edge, too, when the children are mean to each other, like the constant references to Felix being fat or Dan’s larger than usual mouth. Some of LMM’s writing is lovely; some seems to me to overstep into purple prose. But one of the main points of the story that I love is:

There is such a place as fairyland – but only children can find the way to it. And they do not know that it is fairyland until they have grown so old that they forget the way. One bitter day, when they seek it and cannot find it, they realize what they have lost; and that is the tragedy of life. On that day the gates of Eden are shut behind them and the age of gold is over. Henceforth they must dwell in the common light of the common day. Only a few, who remain children at heart, can ever find that fair, lost path again; and blessed are they above mortals. They, and only they, can bring us tidings from that dear country where we once sojourned and from which we must evermore be exiles. The world calls them its singers and poets and artists and story-tellers; but they are just people who have never forgotten the way to fairyland.

And I could identify with this, said of the Story Girl:

She loved expressive words, and treasured them as some girls might have treasured jewels. To her, they were as lustrous pearls, threaded on the crimson cord of a vivid fancy. When she met with a new one she uttered it over and over to herself in solitude, weighing it, caressing it, infusing it with the radiance of her voice, making it her own in all its possibilities for ever.

If I still had children of an age to read to, I am not entirely sure I would read this to them: if I did, it would be with some editing and discussions along the way.

One of the reasons I wanted to read this book was that the series “The Road to Avonlea” is based on it and its sequel, The Golden Road. I don’t remember seeing any of the series when it was originally on except for possibly a part of one episode at someone’s house. I had planned to see one before writing this review, but it’s not on Hulu or Netflix. There are excerpts on YouTube, but only 4 or 5 minutes each, with links back to Sullivan Entertainment, where they offer to sell them to you. DVDs are still available, but I didn’t want to buy them – I just wanted to see the first episode. Unfortunately our library system only has one Christmas episode from the series. The part I saw on YouTube had the same feel and look as Sullivan’s production of “Anne of Green Gables” with Megan Follows, but apparently they left out some of the characters and changed various details.

I listened to a free audiobook version on Librivox, which was read by volunteers across the country. Unfortunately, it sounds like it was read by volunteers. The sound quality wasn’t good on all of them: some had static or other noises. Some of the readers did better than others. But…it was free, Audible didn’t have it, and I had more room in my listening time than I did in my reading time, so I pressed on with it. I did get a copy of the book from the library to go over certain parts, and I just discovered a short while ago that the text is online here. I do want to read The Golden Road some time to see what happens with the children.

So – mixed emotions. A lot of good, a handful of qualities I in particular didn’t like. For more enthusiastic reviews, see Hope‘s or Carrie‘s.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books)

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Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge Sign-up Post 2017

Welcome to the sixth Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge! I am especially excited for it this year as Feb. 7 marks her 150th birthday.

The basic idea is to read anything by or about Laura Ingalls Wilder. In the comments below let us know what you’re planning to read. On Feb. 28 I’ll have a wrap-up post where you can tell us how you did and what you thought, either in the comments or with a link back to your posts. You don’t have to have a blog to participate, but if you do I’d appreciate your linking back here.

If you’re looking for ideas for books other than the Little House books themselves, I have a list of Books Related to Laura Ingalls Wilder, with some others listed in the comments there and here.

Sometimes participants have done projects or made recipes from the series as well. If you do so, please do share with us! Annette at Little House Companion has some activities and other resources.

I like to have some sort of drawing to offer a prize concluding the challenge, and I decided to once again offer one winner the choice of:

The Little House Cookbook compiled by Barbara M. Walker

OR

Laura’s Album: A Remembrance Scrapbook of Laura Ingalls Wilder by William Anderson

If neither of those suits you, I can substitute a similarly-priced Laura book of your choice. To be eligible, leave a comment on the wrap-up post at the end of the month telling us what you read for this challenge. I’ll choose a name through random.org. a week from then to give everyone time to get their last books and posts finished.

For myself, I am planning on reading at least These Happy Golden Years, the next to last book in the series. I may go on to The First Four Years – or I may save that for next year.I also recently got a used copy of The Laura Ingalls Wilder Country Cookbook, compiled from recipes found in Laura’s kitchen and supplemented with information about Laura’s life and photos of the Wilders and their home. I plan to at least read the supplemental information: I may even try one or two of the recipes.

How about you? Will you be joining us this year? What will you be reading?

 

What’s On Your Nightstand: January 2017

What's On Your NightstandThe folks at 5 Minutes For Books host What’s On Your Nightstand? the last Tuesday of each month in which we can share about the books we have been reading and/or plan to read.

It’s the first Nightstand post of 2017! And I love that it is on the actual last day of the month.

Since last time I have completed:

A Patchwork Christmas Collection by Judith Miller, Nancy Moser, and Stephanie Grace Whitson, reviewed here. Christian fiction romances set in the Victorian era and based on second chances. Nice Christmas read.

A Fall of Marigolds by Susan Meissner has a double timeline, one on 1911 with a nurse on Ellis Island, and another in 2011 with a single mom, both timelines connected by a scarf, reviewed here. Very good.

The Golden Braid, a Christian fiction retelling loosely based on Rapunzel, reviewed here. Very good.

The Silent Songbird by Melanie Dickerson, a Christian fiction retelling loosely based on “The Little Mermaid,” reviewed here. Good.

The Magnolia Story by “Fixer-Upper” stars Chip and Joanna with Mark Dagostino, reviewed here. Enjoyed it quite a lot.

The Sea Glass Sisters by Lisa Wingate, reviewed here, is an novella prequel to The Prayer Box. A woman whose life is unraveling travels with her mother into a predicted hurricane to try to avert a family crisis. Excellent.

June Bug by Chris Fabry, reviewed here. Sort of based on Les Miserables, a man and his daughter travel the US in an RV, until one day she sees her photo on a missing children’s bulletin board. Very good.

The Story Girl by L. M. Montgomery for Carrie’s  L. M. Montgomery Reading Challenge.I just finished it Saturday and hope to review it later this week.

I’m currently reading:

How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth by Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart

The Tidewater Sisters by Lisa Wingate

Two Roads Home by Deborah Raney

12 Years a Slave by Solomon Northup

Spiritual Mothering: The Titus 2 Design for Women Mentoring Women by Susan Hunt. Our ladies at church are going through this over the next few weeks. I probably can’t attend the sessions, but wanted to read it.

Up Next: Not sure yet, but my next choices will be from these:

A Place of Quiet Rest by Nancy Leigh DeMoss

Something from my reading plans for the year – I am leaning toward Middlemarch by George Elliot.

Either Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More by Karen Swallow Prior and Eric Metaxas or When Others Shuddered: Eight Women Who Refused to Give Up by Jamie Janosz

Traces of Guilt by Dee Henderson.

The Portrait of Emily Price by Katherine Reay

These Happy Golden Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder for the Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge.

Speaking of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge – it starts tomorrow, runs through February, and it is hosted right here! More information is here, and I’ll have a sign-up post tomorrow. I’d love to have you join us!

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Book Review: June Bug

june-bug June Bug by Chris Fabry caught my eye both because I have enjoyed others of his books, plus this one was said to be based on Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, one of my top two all-time favorite novels.

It begins with 9 year old June traveling around the country with her father,  John Johnson, in an old RV. It’s the only life she has ever known. They home school (or RV school, as they like to joke) and have seen much of the country. But one day a part in the RV breaks down, and they park in a Wal-mart parking lot waiting for it to come in. When June goes into the store one day, she sees her picture on a bulletin board of missing children. It says she is Natalie Edwards and she has been missing since she was 2 from Dogwood, WV. The age progression technology forms a pretty accurate representation, and a birthmark is a key identifying factor. June doesn’t tell her father, or supposed father, this right away, though. He’s been a good dad, though quiet and not wanting to stay in one place for long.

Meanwhile, back in Dogwood, Mae Edwards is the only one who believes her granddaughter is still alive. Her daughter, Dana, said her car was abducted with the baby still in it, and neither was ever seen again. Until now: someone has discovered an old car in the lake, and Sheriff Hadley Preston presides as it is extricated from the lake. When he investigates, he finds it is the missing car, but there is no child’s body in it, and the strap on the car seat has been cut.

The story started out a little slowly for me, but picked up in the latter half as all the pieces started coming together.

Also, at first, I was expecting it to be more of a parallel to Les Mis than it was based on some of the blurbs I had seen about it. I know remakes or retellings of favorite stories never match point for point, but once I stopped trying to compare and contrast it to Les Mis and just enjoyed it for the story itself, I got a lot more out of it plus enjoyed the throwbacks to it I did see.

Probably the most disappointing comparison was with the mother of the girl. In Les Mis, Fantine was something of a tragic victim. She made some wrong choices, but she was taken advantage of first by the man who got her pregnant, then the couple who were taking care of her child and inventing stories about her needs to get more money out of her, then she ran into hard luck when she was fired after it was discovered she had a child out of wedlock. Desperate to get the money she thought her child needed, she sold everything she had, including her hair and teeth, and finally ended up in prostitution. I read somewhere that author Victor Hugo considered prostitution was a form of slavery. When her path crossed Valjean’s and he realized that being fired from his factory had contributed to her situation, he helped her and took care of her child when she died, and the grace shown between the two is one of the best parts of the story. However, the mother in June Bug, Dana, comes across as just a bad, selfish person. I guess you could say she is a victim of her addictions, and we’ve had extended family members in the same boat and know what drugs can do to a person’s perspective. But there’s nothing about Dana that makes the reader sympathetic to her.

The most exciting surprise, though, was in the character who turned out to be Johnson’s benefactor, the part taken in Les Mis by the bishop who shows Valjean a kindness that changes his life and helps him both spiritually and practically. I don’t want to spoil it, so I won’t say more about it, but it totally caught me by surprise and I was delighted by how that played out.

As a story on its own merits, I ended up liking it and enjoying it much more near the end than I did at the beginning. Fabry’s characters are well drawn, and I liked the journey they went through.

Looking around Chris Fabry’s blog a little bit for more information on June Bug, I found this fun entry on How to Get Your Book Mentioned on Jeopardy, which tells some of the background and progression of writing the book and how it really did end up being a clue of Jeopardy.

Genre: Christian fiction
My rating: 8 out of 10

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books and Carole’s Books You Loved)

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Book Review: The Sea Glass Sisters

sea-glass-ssiters The Sea Glass Sisters by Lisa Wingate is an novella prequel to The Prayer Box, which I read and reviewed last year. A major character in that book is Sandy, owner of Sandy’s Sea Shell Shop on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, who has a significant influence on the life of main character Tandi. The Sea Glass Sisters  shares some of Sandy’s background and the circumstances involving the hurricane that hit the area just prior to The Prayer Box.

The main character in this story, however, is Sandy’s niece, Elizabeth Gallagher. Her life is coming unraveled: pressures on her job as a 911 dispatcher, distance in her relationships with her husband and children, problems piling up she doesn’t know what to do about. Just as she is riddled with guilt that a mistake she made on a call may have cost a young girl her life, her mother recruits her for a multi-state drive to Hatteras Island, NC. Her mother and Sandy are sisters, and her mother wants to “talk some sense” into Sandy and get her to move back. All the rest of the relatives live on properties all touching each other. Sandy, seemingly on a whim, went to NC and opened this shop, and now wants to sell her property in Michigan. Besides wanting to keep the family properties together and have Sandy back, she is worried about hurricanes and Sandy’s neglected health.

In fact, as Elizabeth and her mother drive to NC, a hurricane is on its way to the area. But her mother is convinced she can persuade Sandy to come back with them before they’re in danger. When they arrive, they can understand what attracted Sandy to the area, but they still want her to come home. When the hurricane presses toward them, they ride out the storm together and get to know each other better in the process.

Some standout quotes:

I decipher the brewing machine because I am, after all, trained to save lives, and this is a life-or-death situation. We need coffee. Now. Or heads will roll.

Every decision you make in life has benefits and consequences. Sometimes you just have to go on faith, and even that comes at a price. It means you have to give up the idea that you’re the one in charge of the universe.

No way out but through the storm now.

That’s the only thing you can do with a mess. Start cleaning it up, a little at a time.

The shadow of the highest evil intermingled with the light of the highest good. Maybe all lives are filled with this. Maybe it is always a choice between embracing the darkness of one or the saving grace of the other.

We’ve tried to set her straight, but you don’t set that woman anywhere. She’s like the value of pi. She just is.

Maybe life is a series of little deaths and rebirths, of passages and rites of passage, of God teaching you to stop clinging to one thing so you can reach for another.

Lisa packed quite a lot into this little book. I loved what Elizabeth learned along the way and the sense of place or setting Lisa created in the book. I love that cover! It looks like a shop I would want to visit. I enjoyed my second visit to the outer Banks via Lisa’s books – or third, actually, including A Sandy’s Seashell Shop Christmas – and look forward to more.

Genre: Christian fiction
Objectionable elements: None.
My rating: 10 out of 10

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books and Carole’s Books You Loved)

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Book Review: The Magnolia Story

I don’t actually watch too many home flipping and fixing shows because we don’t get HGTV on our main TV, connected to Tivo (though we do get it on the TVs in my mother-in-law’s room and our bedroom, which aren’t connected to Tivo). But we watched a few through Netflix. last summer when nothing else was on. I enjoyed them, but some of the renovations were too sleek and modern for my tastes. Then I found “Fixer Upper” with Chip and Joanna Gaines. I liked the warmth of the show and Joanna’s style. So, even though I’d only seen a handful of episodes, I was excited to see that they were coming out with a book, The Magnolia Story, by Chip and Joanna with Mark Dagostino.

magnoliaThe book starts with the offer they received to have someone come out and do some filming with the idea of developing a reality show, how it almost bombed out before it even got going, and what turned the tide. Then they backtrack to how they first met, their backgrounds, what led to their business and the TV offer, and then shoot ahead to how they got to where they are today.

The book is written in a conversational style with different fonts for the two of them.

They’re a definite case of opposites attracting, but they’ve learned to work with each other’s differences and draw out the best in each other.

Chip seems always to have had a bent toward entrepreneurship. Joanna was actually a communications major with no background in design, but while doing an internship in New York City, she came across some warm and cozy little shops and wanted to start a similar one in Waco, TX. That led to helping customers find just the right accents for their homes, and eventually she got involved in Chip’s house-flipping business. They both learned along the  way by doing, and the success they’ve had indicates they’ve obviously learned well.

They talk candidly about their faith, though they don’t really define it or tell how they came to it. Joanna mentioned her faith becoming more personal while in college. But they do credit God with guiding and providing for them.

Here are a few things that stood out to me:

It seemed as if every homeless guy in Waco knew Chip Gaines. On the flip side, every baker in Waco knew Chip, too. And he talked to those very different groups of people exactly the same way (p. 19).

I realized that my determination to make things perfect meant I was chasing an empty obsession all day long. Nothing was ever going to be perfect the way I had envisioned it in the past. Did I want to keep spending my energy on that effort, or did I want to step out of that obsession and to enjoy my kids, maybe allowing myself to get messy right along with them in the process? I chose the latter – and that made all the difference.

It’s up to us to choose contentment and thankfulness now—and to stop imagining that we have to have everything perfect before we’ll be happy.

Most people think that you start off not thriving. Then you get a TV show or some other amazing opportunity, you get fame, you get fortune, and then you thrive…I always thought that the “thriving” would come when everything was perfect, and what I learned is that it’s actually down in the mess that things get good (pp. 167-168).

They share why they use the magnolia as a symbol, what landed Chip in jail once, the business venture that almost ruined them, how they got their farm, and pictures!

I very much enjoyed reading their story.

Genre: Non-fiction
Objectionable elements: None
My rating: 9 out of 10

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books and Carole’s Books You Loved)

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Book Review: The Silent Songbird

silent-songbird The Silent Songbird by Melanie Dickerson is a Christian fiction retelling loosely based on “The Little Mermaid.” It’s book 7 of the Hagenheim/ Fairy Tale Romance Series, so some other characters in the other books appear here, mainly from The Merchant’s Daughter, as the hero here is the son of the couple there. But it could be read as a stand-alone book.

In this book, Evangeline is the ward of her cousin, King Richard II. When he plans for her to marry Lord Shively, a much older man whom she finds disgusting, she decides to escape. Her maid, and older woman named Muriel, finds out and, not being able to stop her, comes with her.

Evangeline is known for her beauitful singing voice, so she decides to act as if she is mute as part of her disguise. She and Muriel travel with a group going away from the castle back to their home village. Right away Evangeline notices that the apparent leader, Wesley le Wyse, is both handsome and kind. He notices her as well, and feels sorry for her when Muriel tells him that Eva (as she’s known now) lost her voice when her master beat her. Eva and Westley find ways to communicate, and as she comes to know him better, she regrets deceiving him. She wants to tell him the truth but is afraid of how he might react to her deception.

When they get to Westley’s village, he gets Eva and Muriel jobs at his family’s home. But Eva has never been trained to do menial labor and either injures herself or someone else at everything she tries. Muriel is more capable but also more miserable, longing for home and a special someone there.

Eventually Westley catches on the Eva is not who she seems to be, learns of her deception, and is understandably angry. Just then Eva learns that Westley’s life is in danger, as is the king’s safety, but will anyone believe her now? And can she ever be forgiven, not only by other people, but by God?

“Losing everything is sometimes the price one must pay for doing the right thing.”

I wasn’t sure if perhaps Westley’s name was a nod to The Princess Bride, but when “As you wish” was said a couple of times, it seemed so.

This series is labeled as Young Adult, and I mentioned last time that most of them didn’t read that way to me. This one did seem meant for a younger audience, but I generally enjoyed it.

Genre: Christian fiction fairy tale
Objectionable elements: None
My rating: 8 out of 10

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books and Carole’s Books You Loved)

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