Book Review: Lavender and Old Lace

Lavender_and_Old_LaceLavender and Old Lace by Myrtle Reed, written in 1902, opens with 34-year-old Ruth Thorne coming to occupy her aunt’s cottage while her aunt is away. She’s never met her aunt, Miss Jane Hathaway. Miss Jane has never forgiven her sister for running away to elope, but for whatever reason, she decides to establish relationships with her niece. However, she ends up having to leave before her niece arrives, so Ruth finds only Hepsey, the farm-girl working as the maid, at the house. Her aunt left a letter with various instructions, the most mysterious and inexplicable of which was to leave a light burning in the attic window every night.

Ruth worked for a newspaper in the city, but has six months off to house-sit for her aunt. Bored and restless, she explores her aunt’s attic, the first “real attic” she’s ever been in, until she comes across her aunt’s unused wedding dress and some newspaper clippings about a couple’s wedding and the wife’s death. At first Ruth thinks the couple had been friends of her aunt’s, but then surmises that the man was Aunt Jane’s lost love who married someone else. Feeling she’s intruding into her aunt’s privacy, she leaves the attic and vows to stifle her growing curiosity.

She visits her aunt’s best friend and neighbor, Mary Ainslie, who is thought a little odd by the community because she never leaves her home. But Miss Ainslie has a reputation for being kind and sending things to people who need help. Ruth finds her gracious and beautiful, and they soon become friends. Miss Ainslie also leaves a lamp burning in her window at night for unknown reasons.

Soon Ruth has unexpected company: a young man named Carl Winfield looks her up at the recommendation of his editor. Carl works for the same newspaper as Ruth but has developed a problem with his eyes and is ordered not to read or write for several months. He’s staying in town, and their excursions eventually blossom into romance.

In fact, there’s a lot of romance happening in the book:

  • Ruth and Carl
  • Hepsey and a young man, Joe
  • a long lost love recovered
  • a long lost love forever gone

Ruth comes across as somewhat prickly at first, easily offended and angered. Carl is laid-back and merry-hearted, and once they got to the point where they expressed their feelings for each other, I enjoyed their banter and their relationship.

There is a bit of a mystery with one of the characters having an unknown connection with another that, to me, was pretty easy to put together, but no one in the book did until they came across evidence of it. The one person who did know of it, for some reason, never tells anyone else. There’s also the mystery of the lights in the windows and why Miss Ainslie never leaves her home. There’s one odd section where two people have the same dream of an old man saying the same thing to them.

The title comes from Miss Ainslie, who has dark violet eyes, always wears some shade of purple or lavender, and scents all her things with lavender. She often, if not always, wears lace as well. Various types of lace are mentioned often in the book: “Ruth was gathering up great quantities of lace—Brussels, Point d’Alencon, Cluny, Mechlin, Valenciennes, Duchesse and Venetian point.” I think in those days it was a precious commodity, possibly made by hand.

The emotions in the book seem a bit overwrought sometimes:

Ruth was cold from head to foot, and her senses reeled. Every word that Winfield had said in the morning sounded again in her ears. What was it that went on around her, of which she had no ken? It seemed as though she stood absolutely alone, in endless space, while planets swept past, out of their orbits, with all the laws of force set suddenly aside.

The earth trembled beneath Ruth’s feet for a moment, then, all at once, she understood.

That may be due to the author’s being twenty when she wrote the book, or it may be due to the times.

But quite a lot of the writing reminded me of Lucy Maud Montgomery, though her first book, Anne of Green Gables, was published six years after this book. The relationships and romances and quarrels are similar to hers, as are some of the descriptive passages:

Have not our houses, mute as they are, their own way of conveying an impression? One may go into a house which has been empty for a long time, and yet feel, instinctively, what sort of people were last sheltered there. The silent walls breathe a message to each visitor, and as the footfalls echo in the bare cheerless rooms, one discovers where Sorrow and Trouble had their abode, and where the light, careless laughter of gay Bohemia lingered until dawn. At night, who has not heard ghostly steps upon the stairs, the soft closing of unseen doors, the tapping on a window, and, perchance, a sigh or the sound of tears? Timid souls may shudder and be afraid, but wiser folk smile, with reminiscent tenderness, when the old house dreams.

The rain had ceased, and two or three stars, like timid children, were peeping at the world from behind the threatening cloud. It was that mystical moment which no one may place—the turning of night to day. Far down the hill, ghostly, but not forbidding, was Miss Ainslie’s house, the garden around it lying whitely beneath the dews of dawn, and up in the attic window the light still shone, like unfounded hope in a woman’s soul, harking across distant seas of misunderstanding and gloom, with its pitiful “All Hail!”

That night, the gates of Youth turned on their silent hinges for Miss Ainslie. Forgetting the hoary frost that the years had laid upon her hair, she walked, hand in hand with them, through the clover fields which lay fair before them and by the silvered reaches of the River of Dreams. Into their love came something sweet that they had not found before—the absolute need of sharing life together, whether it should be joy or pain. Unknowingly, they rose to that height which makes sacrifice the soul’s dearest offering, as the chrysalis, brown and unbeautiful, gives the radiant creature within to the light and freedom of day.

One of my favorite lines occurred after Ruth and Carl profess their love, but he has to return to the city for a doctor’s visit: “She had little time to miss him, however, for, at the end of the week, and in accordance with immemorial custom, the Unexpected happened.”

The ending was bittersweet – in fact, one character’s whole story was mostly shaded that way – but overall the book was a sweet, clean read.

I listened to the free audiobook at Librivox, which was, unfortunately, read with almost no expression. I enjoyed going over some passages at Project Gutenberg, where one can read the whole book online. I had thought that a movie was made of this in the 40s, but the only movie of it I found mention of was made in the 20s. I may have been confusing it with Arsenic and Old Lace, another classic film and book I’ve not yet read or seen.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books and Literary Musing Monday)

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Book Review: Old Yeller

I loved the movie version of Old Yeller when my kids were little. I don’t know if I knew then that it came from a book, but I’ve been wanting to read the book by Fred Gipson for years. When I was searching for a classic about an animal for the Back to the Classics Reading Challenge, plus a shorter classic after finishing a very long one, this fit the bill on both counts.

Old YellerThe story is told from the point of view of Travis, the fourteen-year-old oldest son of a family in Texas in the 1860s. Though the family lived off the land easily, they didn’t have much in the way of “cash money.” Some of the settlers were joining a cattle drive to a town some 600 miles away, and Travis’s dad decided to go. He left Travis as the “man of the house,” with the responsibility of a man: shooting game for food, keeping critters out of the corn, protecting the family from Indians and wildlife, milking the cows, looking after his Mama and little brother, Arliss, marking the new pigs, and not waiting for his mom to tell him to do things.

Travis felt “pretty near a grown man” and welcomed the opportunity to prove himself. With the exception of being able to reign in Little Arliss, he put in full days of work and did a good job. He was especially gratified when his mother waited supper for him, just like she did for his dad when his work ran late.

But then one day a scruffy, yellow ugly dog showed up on the property and stole some of the family’s meat. Little Arliss claimed the dog immediately, and their mom was willing for him to have him. But Travis hated him especially because of his thieving but also because he was ugly and seemed worthless.

But it wasn’t long before the dog proved it could learn and be a big help to the family, herding hogs, chasing off bears and wolves, etc. And it wasn’t long before Travis loved the dog even more than Little Arliss.

That made it all the harder when tragedy struck, which the author speaks of on the first page.

I love “coming of age” stories, especially the character has to stretch him- or herself farther than they think they can go (Keep the Lights Burning, Abbie, is another favorite along these lines.) I also enjoyed the peek into this era. It used to be a regular thing for a teenager to be trained to do an adult’s work, though they weren’t often left with it all on their shoulders like Travis was. Sometimes I wonder if that would be a better thing than not expecting young people to take on adult responsibilities until they’re out of college or later. Then again, it was a hard life, and I enjoy the fact that young people now have avenues to explore in their teens that young people didn’t have then. I also can’t imagine being nearly alone on the edges of a settlement while a husband is away for months with no means of communication for all that time, and having to patch up serious injuries of both boys and animals and take on the extra work that they can’t do while injured.

Probably my favorite part of the book is the advice Travis’s dad gave him when he returned and heard all that had gone on in his absence:

That was as rough a thing as I ever heard tell of happening to a boy. And I’m mighty proud to learn how my boy stood up to it. You couldn’t ask any more of a grown man… It’s not a thing you can forget. I don’t guess it’s a thing you ought to forget. What I mean is, things like that happen. They may seem mighty cruel and unfair, but that’s how life is part of the time. But that isn’t the only way life is. A part of the time, it’s mighty good. And a man can’t afford to waste all the good part, worrying about the bad parts. That makes it all bad.

I listens to the audiobook very nicely read by Peter Francis James. he did a good job with the expression as well as the accents. It’s been a long while since I’ve seen the movie version, but it seems to have followed closely to the book except for drawing out the climax more.

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

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Book Review: Middlemarch

I had not heard of Middlemarch by George Eliot (pseudonym of Mary Ann Evans) until the last several years, and whenever I looked at a description of it, it sounded rather vague – something about a community in pre-Reform-era England. That’s like saying Jan Karon’s Mitford books are about a community of people in the fictional town of Mitford, NC. They are, but that’s a pale description of the richness and depth of the characters. Yet it’s hard to know how else to describe the books in just a few sentences to someone unfamiliar with them. As I planned for the Back to the Classics challenge for this year, I decided to give Middlemarch a try, trusting that since I saw it recommended so often, it must be worth reading.

There’s not a single overarching plot to the book: it’s about the journeys of several people in the town. So it might be best to try to describe it a little by discussion some of its characters.

Dorothea Brooke is the main character, a teen-age orphan with her younger sister under the care of a benevolent older single uncle. Dorothea is ardent, serious, and pious. Though wealthy, she dresses plainly and is only interested in wealth as a means of doing good. A neighbor, Sir James Chettam, is very much interested in her, but she’s not interested in him at all except as a potential match for her sister, Celia. When a much older clergyman, Edward Casaubon, takes notice of her, everyone she knows protests against the match, but Dorothea is drawn to the marriage as a means of doing a great good by helping him in his work and a means of growth as she can increase her knowledge by sharing in his. She is sadly disappointed, however, because Casaubon is aloof (on their honeymoon in Rome, he leaves her alone while he’s off doing research for his book: he even suggested that Celia come with them as a companion for Dorothea!) and doesn’t allow her into the realm of his work until he becomes ill later on.

Tertius Lydgate is a young doctor new to the town. He was orphaned and cared for by wealthy relatives, but there was no closeness between them, and they were miffed when he chose a career in medicine, so he’s basically on his own. He’s ahead of his time medically (one source pointed out his use of a stethoscope, which was available but not routinely used at the time), but the older, established doctors don’t like the new guy coming in with new ways, and he unwittingly offends them, so he has an uphill battle starting out. But his success and availability with the people he does treat gives him an inroad into the community.

The Vincy family consists of two parents and four children, two of them grown. The father is the mayor, and he and his wife tend to live beyond their means and spoil their children. They want their son, Fred, to become a clergyman due to the position’s respectability and are paying for his education; however, he has no interest in or aptitude for it, so he drops out. But he has no other talents and is counting on getting an inheritance from an uncle. He’s in love with Mary Garth, but she won’t have him if he goes into the clergy (because she knows it would not be a good fit for him) and if he continues to be idle. The daughter, Rosamond, is beautiful, cultured, proper, genteel, and charming, which over-shadows her thoroughly self-centered nature. She sets her sights on Lydgate, thinking he is wealthy and of a higher social standing due to his family connections. He had not planned to marry for a long while and at first enjoys just flirting with Rosamond, but eventually he succumbs to her charms, and they marry.

Though things start out well for the Lydgates, they soon run into trouble when their expensive habits exceed Lydgate’s income. He insists they should economize, something totally unheard of for her: she insists he should find more or better-paying work or appeal to his family. She finds out he’s not as wealthy or well-connected as she thought; he finds out the selfish core under her beautiful exterior. Her unwillingness to bend and his extenuating financial circumstances set him up for trouble later in the book.

Will Ladislaw is Edward Casaubon’s younger cousin whom he is helping financially. Will is an artist who doesn’t know quite what he wants to do with his life, so he is traveling and painting. At first Will doesn’t like Dorothea, but as he gets to know her better, he’s grieved at her “wasting” herself on Casaubon. Will also becomes friends with the Lydgates, which leads to some trouble later on.

Nicholas Bulstrode is a banker and pillar of the community. He’s quite religious, but in a way that rubs others the wrong way. Much later in the book, an old associate comes to town for other reasons, discovers Bulstrode lives there, and blackmails him with the threat of sharing some shady dealings in his past which would destroy his reputation in the community.

There are multitudes of other characters, but these are the main ones, and their lives and situations intersect at various points. The plot moves fairly slowly by modern standards, though the book does contain riveting moments of suspense in places. But Eliot’s main strength is her pathos in getting into the heads of her characters and sharing their hearts. We know minutely what they are thinking and groan, laugh, or cry along with them.

Multiple themes emerge throughout the book. One of the top ones is marriage. The two main marriages are fraught with trouble, but others by contrast exhibit great sharing and warmth. Those who weathered great trouble on their way to marriage seem to fair better than the ones who encountered it afterward. Another theme is what some sources called “self-determination.” This was an era when there were pretty strict expectations upon people, especially women, and those who bucked the system weren’t looked kindly upon, but in this book those seemed most likely to succeed.

Eliot’s vast knowledge in a number of areas shows up here, mainly in literary references but also in politics and science. There are quite a number of biblical allusions throughout: I read in one source that Eliot started out as religious but “lost her faith” after reading about “higher criticism” of the Bible.

I think my favorite character is Dorothea. She seems a little stiff at first, but eventually she grows into the warmest, most human person in the book. Another favorite is Mr. Garth, Mary’s father, whose kindly and wise ways permeate all his actions, and I enjoyed the warmth of his family’s home scenes. The one I sympathized and ached with most by the end was Lydgate, but I can’t say why without revealing too much.

One source said that the book was kind of an anti-fairy tale, that the characters didn’t ride off happily in the sunset with all problems solved like many other books of the era. But I disagree: several found some degree of happiness, though they still had problems. Another said that Dorothea never reached her full potential, but I disagree again. In one of my favorite quotes of the book, Eliot seems to me to be saying that though some of the characters wanted to do “great things,” they found instead greatness in the “little things”:

Her finely-touched spirit had still its fine issues, though they were not widely visible. Her full nature, like that river of which Cyrus broke the strength, spent itself in channels which had no great name on the earth. But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.

A few other favorite quotes:

It is a narrow mind which cannot look at a subject from various points of view.

And certainly, the mistakes that we male and female mortals make when we have our own way might fairly raise some wonder that we are so fond of it.

What we call our despair is often only the painful eagerness of unfed hope.

We are all humiliated by the sudden discovery of a fact which has existed very comfortably and perhaps been staring at us in private while we have been making up our world entirely without it.

Sane people did what their neighbors did, so that if any lunatics were at large, one might know and avoid them.

A prig is a fellow who is always making you a present of his opinions.

It is an uneasy lot at best, to be what we call highly taught and yet not to enjoy: to be present at this great spectacle of life and never to be liberated from a small hungry shivering self—never to be fully possessed by the glory we behold, never to have our consciousness rapturously transformed into the vividness of a thought, the ardor of a passion, the energy of an action, but always to be scholarly and uninspired, ambitious and timid, scrupulous and dim-sighted.

‘You must love your work, and not be always looking over the edge of it, wanting your play to begin. And the other is, you must not be ashamed of your work, and think it would be more honorable to you to be doing something else. You must have a pride in your own work and in learning to do it well, and not be always saying, There’s this and there’s that—if I had this or that to do, I might make something of it. No matter what a man is—I wouldn’t give twopence for him’— here Caleb’s mouth looked bitter, and he snapped his fingers— ‘whether he was the prime minister or the rick-thatcher, if he didn’t do well what he undertook to do.’

I feel like I am not doing the book any justice, but I hope I have given you a little picture of what it’s about. I listened to the audiobook, superbly read by Juliet Stevenson. Later on I got the corresponding Kindle version, and some of the notes there would have provided me with more detail, especially to Eliot’s literary allusions, if I had been reading it all along, but I wouldn’t trade it for the experience of listening to Stevenson’s narrations. Her voice for each character as well as her intonations and expression truly enhanced my enjoyment of the book.

I’ve spent over 35 listening hours with these characters, and I am going to miss them.

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

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Book Review: Twelve Years a Slave

12-years-a-slaveSolomon Northup was a free black man living in New York in the early 1800s. His father had been a slave and was freed, and his mother was free. His father became a farmer, eventually owned his own land, had the right to vote, and educated his children. Solomon married Anne Hampton and they had three children. Anne was a noted cook and worked for different hotels and taverns. Solomon was a professional violinist, but the inconsistency of his opportunities to play led him to supplement his income by a variety of other jobs, often carpentry.

When he was 32, he met a couple of men who said they were circus performers on their way back to Washington, D.C. They planned to give several performances along the way and asked him to come with them and play his violin. Anne was away and he thought he would be home soon, so he didn’t notify her. Slavery was legal in Washington, so they advised him along the way to obtain papers declaring his freedom.

One afternoon after the group stopped in a saloon he became terribly ill. He went back to his hotel room in not a very good state (probably drugged). “The memory of that night of horrible suffering will follow me to the grave,” he later wrote. During the night some men came to his room and said they were taking him to a doctor. On the way he became “insensible” for an unknown period of time, and “when consciousness returned, I found myself alone, in utter darkness, and in chains.” His papers and everything else were gone.

He later discovered he was in a slave pen within sight of the US Capitol building. When someone finally came into his cell and he protested that he was a free man, he was severely beaten.

He was eventually taken to Louisiana, his name was changed to Platt and those holding him said he was from GA. He was bought for $1,000 by a farmer named Ford who later became a preacher.

In many northern minds, perhaps, the idea of a man holding his brother man in servitude, and the traffic in human flesh, may seem altogether incompatible with their conceptions of a moral or religious life. From descriptions of such men as Burch and Freeman [those who sold him], and others hereinafter mentioned, they are led to despise and execrate the whole class of slaveholders, indiscriminately. But I was sometime his slave, and had an opportunity of learning well his character and disposition, and it is but simple justice to him when I say, in my opinion, there never was a more kind, noble, candid, Christian man than William Ford. The influences and associations that had always surrounded him, blinded him to the inherent wrong at the bottom of the system of slavery. He never doubted the moral right of one man holding another in subjection. Looking through the same medium with his fathers before him, he saw things in the same light. Brought up under other circumstances and other influences, his notions would undoubtedly have been different. Nevertheless, he was a model master, walking uprightly, according to the light of his understanding, and fortunate was the slave who came to his possession.

This, especially the parts I highlighted, helped me in understanding why a professing Christian could ever hold a slave. Someone once said that though the Bible doesn’t expressly forbid slavery, applying Jesus’ admonition to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” would nip it in the bud. I don’t know why it took Christians so long to realize this.

Ford and Northup had a good working relationship. The latter was able to use his carpentry skills in a variety of ways and knew he was appreciated. Ford took time to instruct his slaves spiritually. But when he came into debt, he had to sell several of them, Northup included.

After his severe beating for maintaining his freedom, Northup kept quiet about it, and with his name change, it was impossible for anyone he knew in his previous life to find him. The next two masters he was sold to were cruel and unreasonable. He was beaten, unjustly charged, worked to exhaustion for the majority of his time in slavery.One of his masters taught slaves Scripture as well, but took passages about slaves out of context and misused them to justify his beating of them.

Finally when his master had a visitor, Bass, who argued with him about the justice of slavery, Northup took a huge chance to talk with him privately to ask if he would send a letter in his behalf to friends in NY who might be able to advocate for his freedom. It’s amazing that the letter got where it needed to go and then that those who worked to liberate Northup found him, as Bass had not signed his name (fearing repercussions) and Norhthup’s name had been changed. A whole series of seeming coincidences (or, as I prefer, signs of God’s providence) worked together, and the scene where Northup realizes who the men are who have come for him is priceless.

Along with telling his own tale, Northup tells of several others he encountered along the way. Slave women had  a particularly hard time of it: when the master made sexual advances toward them, they could not refuse, at least not without beatings; when the master’s wife knew of it, then she was jealous and dished out her own punishment. One such woman with two children was sold with him: her master’s wife sold her and her children when the master was out of town, and the scene of her separation from her children was heart-wrenching (one was sold to someone else; the seller just out of spite  would not let Ford buy her child). She was ever after a broken woman.

He also writes of moral dilemmas he found himself in. At one time he was “promoted” to a driver, and part of his responsibility was to whip other slaves who were not performing up to par. “If Epps was present, I dared not show any lenity, not having the Christian fortitude of a certain well-known Uncle Tom sufficiently to brave his wrath by refusing to perform the office.” Instead, he got proficient with the whip to make it look like he was beating them, yet not letting it actually touch them, and they writhed as if beaten. Another time he secretly obtained paper, made ink, and wrote a letter to friends up North, and took a chance by asking someone to send it. But that someone told his master, though he didn’t give a name. His master confronted him, and he knew it would mean a beating, if not death, to have been found out. He asked how he could write a letter with no supplies and suggested that the man, who had been working temporarily for Epps, was trying to scare him with the thought of runaway slaves so Epps would hire him as an overseer. Epps believed him.

One of the conversations Bass had with Northup’s last owner was the following:

These n…. are human beings. If they don’t know as much as their masters, whose fault is it? They are not allowed to know anything. You have books and papers, and can go where you please, and gather intelligence in a thousand ways. But your slaves have no privileges. You’d whip one of them if caught reading a book. They are held in bondage, generation after generation, deprived of mental improvement, and who can expect them to possess much knowledge? If they are not brought down to a level with the brute creation, you slaveholders will never be blamed for it. If they are baboons, or stand no higher in the scale of intelligence than such animals, you and men like you will have to answer for it. There’s a sin, a fearful sin, resting on this nation, that will not go unpunished forever. There will be a reckoning yet—yes, Epps, there’s a day coming that will burn as an oven. It may be sooner or it may be later, but it’s a coming as sure as the Lord is just.

Later he asks, “What difference is there in the color of a soul?” Indeed.

After he was united with his family, Northup wrote of his experience in 12 Years a Slave  The book ends fairly soon after his reunion with his family, and afterward, according to Wikipedia he worked “again as a carpenter. He became active in the abolitionist movement and lectured on slavery.” He was uniquely gifted and qualified to write this book and shed light on a horrible institution and give voice to others who could not share theirs.

In the “enhanced edition” of the book, which is supplemented by the research of Dr. Sue Eakin, she writes, “In 1853, Solomon’s autobiography brought immediate reaction from New York newspapers, and his first-hand account was perceived as validation of Stowe’s portrayal of Southern slavery. Twelve Years A Slave was published less than a year after Stowe’s spectacularly successful fiction.” Her own story of discovering the book as a child and then spending decades of her life researching it is pretty interesting as well.

I listened to the audiobook based on Eakin’s version very ably read by Louis Gossett, Jr. and read parts in the Kindle version as well.

Genre: Classic non-fiction
My rating: 10 out of 10

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books, Carole’s Books You Loved, Literary Musing Monday)

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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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Mount TBR Reading Challenge Wrap-up

Mount TBR 2016The Mount TBR Reading Challenge had the goal to read books that we already had on hand prior to 2016. For this challenge I completed (the first 12 are from my original list; the rest I added throughout the year in more or less the order I finished them.):

  1. True Woman 201: Interior Design by Mary Kassian and Nancy Leigh DeMoss (Finished 4/16/16)
  2. The Renewing of the Mind Project by Barb Raveling (2015) (Finished 5/23/16)
  3. Beyond Stateliest Marble: The Passionate Femininity of Anne Bradstreet by Douglas Wilson (2001) (Finished 5/1/16)
  4. Ten Fingers For God: The Life and Work of Dr. Paul Brand by Dorothy Clarke Wilson (Finished 8/26/16)
  5. What Are You Afraid Of? Facing Down Your Fears With Faith by David Jeremiah (Finished 2/22/16)
  6. Home to Chicory Lane by Deborah Raney (Finished 9/18/16)
  7. The Bronte Plot by Katherine Reay (Finished 2/2/16)
  8. Pride, Prejudice, and Cheese Grits by Mary Jane Hathaway (2014) (Finished 5/24/16)
  9. Searching for Eternity by Elizabeth Musser (Finished 1/16/16)
  10. Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography by Laura Ingalls Wilder and Pamela Smith Hill (Finished 7/11/16)
  11. Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens (Finished 2/22/16)
  12. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain (Finished 3/8/16)
  13. Big Love: The Practice of Loving Beyond Your Limits by Kara Tippetts (Finished 2/14/16)
  14. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (Finished 1/13/16)
  15. SEAL of God by Chad Williams and David Thomas (Finished 1/24/16)
  16. Not In the Heart by Chris Fabry (Finished 3/26/16)
  17. A Slender Thread by Tracie Peterson (Finished 4/6/16)
  18. The Reunion by Dan Walsh (Finished 4/10/16)
  19. What Follows After by Dan Walsh (Finished 4/23/16)
  20. The Hardest Peace: Expecting Grace in the Midst of Life’s Hard by Kara Tippetts (Finished 4/30/16)
  21. One Perfect Spring by Irene Hannon (Finished 5/11/16)
  22. Don’t Let the Goats Eat the Loquat Trees: The Adventures of an American Surgeon in Nepal by Thomas Hale (Finished 6/13/16)
  23. Chateau of Secrets by Melanie Dobson (Finished 6/18/16)
  24. Eight Twenty Eight: When Love Didn’t Give Up by Ian and Larissa Murphy (Finished 6/28/16)
  25. Thin Places: A Memoir by Mary DeMuth (Finished 7/12/16)
  26. The Methusaleh Project by Rick Barry (Finished 7/16/16)
  27. C. S. Lewis’ Letters to Children, edited by Lyle W. Dorsett and Marjorie Lamp Mead (Finished 7/23/16)
  28. I’m No Angel: From Victoria’s Secret Model to Role Model by Kylie Bisutti (Finished 9/6/16)
  29. Be Faithful (1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon): It’s Always Too Soon to Quit! by Warren Wiersbe
  30. Be Mature (James): Growing Up in Christ by Warren Wiersbe
  31. Be Hopeful (1 Peter): How to Make the Best Times Out of Your Worst Times by Warren Wiersbe
  32. Be Real (I John): Turning From Hypocrisy to Truth by Warren Wiersbe, not reviewed. (Not sure of the finish date for the above four – sometime in August or September)
  33. Give Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids With the Love of Jesus by Elyse M. Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson (Finished 10/1/16)
  34. Knowable Word: Helping Ordinary People Learn to Study the Bible by Peter Krol
  35. Radical Womanhood: Feminine Faith in a Feminist World by Carolyn McCulley (Finished 11/20/16)
  36. The Princess Spy by Melanie Dickerson (Finished 11/15/16)
  37. The Messenger by Siri Mitchell (Finished 12/7/16)
  38. The Christmas Violin by Buffy Andrews (Finished 12/13/16)

The different levels of the challenge are represented by different mountains. I had originally planned to read at least 12 for “Pike’s Peak.” I’m happy I got to the third level, Mt. Vancouver!

Bev also added a fun activity linking the books from our list with familiar proverbs. Mine are:

A stitch in time…with A Slender Thread.
Don’t count your chickens…and Don’t Let the Goats Eat the Loquat Trees.
All good things must come…Home to Chicory Lane.
When in Rome…[see] Our Mutual Friend
A picture is worth…Eight Twenty Eight.
When the going gets tough, the tough get…The Hardest Peace
.
Two wrongs don’t make…One Perfect Spring.
The pen is mightier than…The Messenger.
The squeaky wheel gets…What Follows After.
Hope for the best, but prepare for…Thin Places.
All that glitters is not…Beyond Stateliest Marble.
Birds of a feather…[attend] The Reunion.

I enjoyed getting to so many of my books on hand (or in my Kindle app) yet allowing for some new reads along the way, too.

Book Review: The Loveliness of Christ

loveliness-of-christPuritan Samuel Rutherford’s writings were the inspiration for one of my favorite hymns (“The Sands of Time Are Sinking“) and he’s the author of one of my favorite quotes, but I had never read anything else from him. So when The Loveliness of Christ came through on a 99 cent Kindle sale last week, I decided to give it a try.

I was disappointed that the selections weren’t essays or letters (except for a few letters at the very end): rather, the book is mainly a selection of quotes gleaned from Rutherford’s letters. The writing is a little hard to understand in places, but there are some gold nuggets here.

After a brief biography of Rutherford, the quotes are listed. I am not sure if they are in random of chronological order: except for the full-length letters at the end, we don’t know to whom or when they were written.

Here are some that most spoke to me:

You will not get leave to steal quietly to heaven, in Christ’s company, without a conflict and a cross.

Christ’s cross is such a burden as sails are to a ship or wings are to a bird.

Let our Lord’s sweet hand square us and hammer us, and strike off the knots of pride, self-love and world-worship and infidelity, that He may make us stones and pillars in his Father’s house.

The devil is but God’s master fencer, to teach us to handle our weapons.

They are not lost to you that are laid up in Christ’s treasury in heaven. At the resurrection ye shall meet with them: there they are, sent before but not sent away. Your Lord loveth you, who is homely to take and give, borrow and lend.

O, what I owe to the file, to the hammer, to the furnace of my Lord Jesus!

Why should I start at the plow of my Lord, that maketh deep furrows on my soul? I know He is no idle husbandman, He purposeth a crop.

How sweet a thing were it for us to learn to make our burdens light by framing our hearts to the burden, and making our Lord’s will a law.

Our fair morning is at hand, the day-star is near the rising, and we are not many miles from home. What does it matter if we are mistreated in the smoky inns of this miserable life? We are not to stay here, and we will be dearly welcomed by Him to whom we go.

When we shall come home and enter to the possession of our Brother’s fair kingdom, and when our heads shall find the weight of the eternal crown of glory, and when we shall look back to pains and sufferings; then shall we see life and sorrow to be less than one step or stride from a prison to glory; and that our little inch of time – suffering is not worthy of our first night’s welcome home to heaven.

Let not the Lord’s dealings seems harsh, rough, or unfatherly, because it is unpleasant. When the Lord’s blessed will bloweth cross your desires, it is best in humility to strike sail to him and to be willing to be laid any way our Lord pleaseth: it is a point of denial of yourself, to be as if ye had not a will, but had made a free disposition of it to God, and had sold it over to him; and to make of his will for your own is both true holiness, and your ease and peace.

Welcome, welcome, Jesus, what way soever Thou come, if we can get a sight of Thee! And sure I am, it is better to be sick, providing Christ come to the bedside and draw by the curtains, and say, “Courage, I am Thy salvation,” than to enjoy health, being lusty and strong, and never to be visited of God.

Faith liveth and spendeth upon our Captain’s charges, who is able to pay for all.

Glorify the Lord in your sufferings, and take his banner of love, and spread it over you. Others will follow you, if they see you strong in the Lord; their courage shall take life from your Christian carriage.

Ye may yourself ebb and flow, rise and fall, wax and wane; but your Lord is this day as he was yesterday; and it is your comfort that your salvation is not rolled upon wheels of your own making, neither have ye to do with a Christ of your own shaping.

If Christ Jesus be the period, the end and lodging-home, at the end of your journey, there is no fear, ye go to a friend…ye may look death in the face with joy.

My Lord Jesus hath fully recompensed my sadness with His joys, my losses with His own presence. I find it a sweet an a rich thing to exchange my sorrows with Christ’s joys, my afflictions with that sweet peace I have with Himself.

The favorite quote I mentioned at the beginning was here only in part: I had seen it in one of Amy Carmichael’s writings as having been a comfort to her when one of the children at her compound died. It was written by Rutherford to someone who had lost a child. The larger quote is “Ye have lost a child: nay she is not lost to you who is found to Christ. She is not sent away, but only sent before, like unto a star, which going out of our sight doth not die and vanish, but shineth in another hemisphere. We see her not, yet she doth shine in another country. If her glass was but a short hour, what she wanteth of time that she hath gotten of eternity; and ye have to rejoice that ye have now some plenishing up in heaven.”

As a collection of quotes, some quite thought-provoking and others requiring thought to process, it seemed to work best to read a few a day rather than trying to take in a lot at one sitting. Even doing that, though, it only took about a week to read.

As you can see from the sampling of quotes here, some of the themes of Rutherford’s writing include the goodness of God in the face of any circumstances, His ability to use those circumstances to shape us, the joy of Christ in this life but especially in the life to come.

I’m glad I spent time with this little book and I’m sure I will again in the future. I’m even inspired to go on to the fuller Letters of Samuel Rutherford some day.

Genre: Christian non-fiction
Potenti
al objectionable elements: None
My rating: 10 out of 10

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

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