September Reads

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The Lady and the Unicorn: À mon seul désir 

How was your reading month in September? I finished a few things and started a few others. With our home learning beginning, I definitely slowed down (for me, anyway) as my brain power lowers a wee bit after spending each day in lovely books with my children. I really have too many books (is there such a thing?) going currently, which sometimes makes me uninspired to pick up anything. I need to cull my stack a bit. Someone asked me recently how I read so much. Well, I rarely watch any t.v. or movies, not that I don’t like them, it’s just I want to read, write, or be on social media instead. I read fast, sometimes too fast. I also read while doing other things, riding in a car with my hubby or I even read while cooking, which I don’t recommend. Ha.

L’Abri by Edith Schaeffer (****) – This followed a portion of theologians Francis and Edith Schaeffer’s lives as they begin their ministry of hospitality and outreach to searching individuals in the Swiss Alps. I found this inspiring and challenging. I especially loved how hospitality, simple, yet delicious meals, and just opening ones door, played a vital role in helping so many people. Food and conversation around a table has so much power.  I found it interesting to get a glimpse of the Schaeffer’s children’s lives and how they prayed in their financial support. I loved the sketched map at the beginning of this book, so charming.  The stories were just a wee bit redundant by the end of the book, but overall my faith was challenged in a timeless way and I know I won’t forget the beauty I pulled away from this title.

“Twelfth Night” by William Shakespeare (***) – This is one that I’ve been reading for awhile as we completed this last year with our Charlotte Mason Community. I didn’t love this one as much as some of the others we have done. The tricks seemed a bit too cruel, for some reason I felt bad for Malvolio especially even though he was such a silly person, and I couldn’t like Olivia very much. Overall, the language was so beautiful and the turns of phrase so interesting. Maybe I was just sick of the “twin” vein since we had completed “A Comedy of Errors right before. My children loved this play very much, so it was just me that thought it was “meh”. One thing I loved from our group was that my friend wore yellow tights with cross-garters for our class! That was such a fun touch.

Twelve Moons by Mary Oliver (****) – A beautiful collection of her poetry. I especially loved the second half of this book.

Maud by Melanie J. Fishbane (****) – 3.5 stars – This was a light, interesting historical fiction based on some true events and people in Maud’s life. A YA look at teenage Montgomery’s angst and loneliness. The grit and determination that drove L.M. Montgomery to pursue her dream of writing. I enjoyed this, although occasionally there did seem to be “fact dumps” in the middle of the narrative.

The Man in the Brown Suit by Agatha Christie (*****) – This is the first Agatha Christie that I have TRULY loved! I think it’s because I don’t really love Hercule Poirot that much (and I’ve only read his titles, if I’m remembering correctly), but I didn’t realize that was the problem till I read this one. This is hilarious in a dry way, I loved the main character Anne, lots of twists and turns, but definitely more tongue and cheek than super creepy. Light romance, history, travel, and suspense. What a fun read!

Refuge on Crescent HillEnchanted Isle, and Shadows of Ladenbrooke Manor  by Melanie Dobson (***) – about 2.5 stars between the first two of them.  I heard about Refuge on Crescent Hill as something that was “good Christian fiction” and the story was mysterious and interesting. I felt like the sense of place and the depth of characters were a TEENY bit flat and I still want to know how to write clean fiction with elements of faith without being preachy. Unfortunately, Enchanted IsleI disliked immensely. I felt like this was very slow, plot-line very unbelievable (an old amusement park in The Lake District?), full of cliches and little bits of British culture dropped in to make it seem authentic. The descriptions of the nature were beautiful. Then, because I’m ever an optimist, I tried a third title from this author. I was pleasantly surprised by Shadows of Ladenbrooke Manor. I’d probably give it a solid 3.5 stars and it reminded me a small way of Kate Morton. Teen pregnancy, a special needs little girl, family secrets, and a cottage and a manor in England. The characters were flawed, yet there was a redemptive vein through it all, the story was interesting, and a lot of surprising twists and turns. The flashbacks and journal entries slowly came together at the end of the story. The slight romance was tasteful. The overall tone was sad, yet hopeful. This was clean in the sense that it wasn’t graphic, but not preachy and included dark, hard choices. The sense of place was well done, not overwhelming, but yet you felt immersed in this world. I enjoyed this.  So surprising and interesting to see three novels from the same author in this way.

A Red Herring Without Mustard by Alan Bradley  (*****)- This is the third in the Flavia de Luce mystery series, surrounding a lonely, slightly disturb, morbid yet genius 11 year old with a knack for solving mysteries and love of chemistry. I loved this! An attack on a Gypsy woman stirs up the town and brings to light a mystery surrounding a missing child, stolen antiques, and Flavia’s concern over her father hiding their money troubles. The depth of the main characters in these books is amazing and fascinating as Flavia’s relationship with her father, dead mother, and sisters unfolds just a little bit more. I love the glint in the police Inspector’s eye also regarding Flavia’s detective abilities. Highly recommend!

Collected Poems by Edward Thomas (***)- An English poet and naturalist, I found these haunting and sad. Some of them were a bit convoluted, but I appreciated them. Thomas seems a bit lost all the time, searching for something. I loved his close attention to the natural world, his love of the English countryside, but I often wanted to reach out and offer him some hope.

Sense & Sensibility by Jane Austen (*****)- This was a reread and I loved it probably more than the first time I read it. I really noticed a difference between Pride & Prejudice, which I’ve also reread this year, and this in the writing style. S&S is much deeper, richer, and meatier, if you will. The tone is a lot more serious and it touches on some tough issues. I found myself really admiring Elinor and Colonel Brandon as characters. Marianne is harder for me to like, although I wonder if I am more like her in the way I’m too quick to show my emotions. Highly recommend.

The Paradise War by Stephen R. Lawhead (****) – This fantasy follows two Oxford graduate students who chase a crazy tabloid story to Scotland. This is a weekend diversion intending on checking the fantastic claims of this paper, seeing if they have any merit. Lewis is a bland, laid back American who is skeptical, yet curious. Simon is a wealthy, English, spoiled kid who thinks it’s great fun to drag his roomie on wild goose chases. Something is suspicious about the whole trip to Lewis and before he knows it, Simon is missing and he is in a web of Celtic history, myths, legend, cairns that open doorways to the past. My oldest, Annie, and I found this first in the series fascinating and really enjoyed it.

Thou Givest, They Gather by Amy Carmichael (*****) – I’ve been reading this devotional on and off for a year or so. This is a collection of unrelated devotional pieces that didn’t make it into Carmichael’s other devotionals. Gathered together these are piercing and soul-searching bits to challenge and encourage deeply. I highly recommend.

The Holy Bible (*****) – Esther, Job, Isaiah, 2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude, Revelation

Happy Reading!

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July Remembrance: Schwan’s and Lucy Maud Montgomery

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The big yellow Schwan’s truck screeches to a rolling stop, reversing.  Easing his way, dust motes shifting, sun-glare, he backs, gravel crunching under rubber. “I saw all these kids and I knew you needed ice cream,” he grins, a glint flashing from his eye, pen pulled from his uniform pocket.  Grimy, expectant faces look from his to mine, marbles forgotten in the circle, some jingling in pockets. “I guess we’ll take a box of these little ice cream cup thingys.” I reluctantly say, pressured, silently admiring his strategy. And so begins the summer calendar, fortnight chunks, kid-measured by the sound of this man’s truck.  Little, concentric bits of confetti’d summer, if you will.

Not unlike my children, I measure the calendar this way, but by a different delicacy, “Oh, yeah, I read Persuasion that month, had kind of an Austen-sort of feeling, needed a second chance on life.”  Or, “I read all of Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising Sequence during that season, and then climbed out of my dark, depressed hole.” Come to think of it, my debut as a mother centered on vague memories of upheaval and L.M.Montgomery. Brand-spanking, newly married, I lowered my rotund, unemployed self onto our couch, baby kicking. My first home, its 750 square feet, a few spindly, half-dead plants, $50 of photo frames, even had its own laundry in the bathroom. I loved every inch of that place. Joining my friends, Marilla, Matthew, Anne, Diana, and Gilbert, we traveled to a small island in Canada. I sipped and drank, the beautiful prose, bordering on poetry, Montgomery poured out, Kleenex and chocolates never far away. It’s no wonder I gained 50 pounds that pregnancy. Last page closed, I knew I’d never forget this summer love. A romance birthed in the magic of Prince Edward Island, the humanity of these people, and the hope found in a vivacious red-headed orphan.  Not long after, July humidity hazy, bloody, crying, vernix- covered, she came, my womb-emptied at 7:13 A.M. I remember the time so vividly because it matched her weight perfectly. My very own little Anne with an E, of course. Montgomery knew what I needed that particular summer; those robust, warm, spicy, delicious morsels, summer now forever reminding me of her. Jane of Lantern Hill, The Blue Castle, and recently, Emily of New Moon, might as well be flavors of my favorite ice creams, so sweetly and satisfyingly have they fed me.

Dear Summer, Schwan’s, and Lucy Maude, you are very welcome here. Well, maybe not the Schwan’s guy, my wallet and waist-line doth protest. Time measured in ice cream and literature are wonderful things.

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June Reads

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{Gulf of Mexico – February 2017 – Books, sand, sun, and little driftwood boat from my boy.}

What did you read for June? I’d love to hear.

 

The Dean’s Watch by Elizabeth Goudge (*****) –

“Could mere loving be a life’s work?”

I cannot tell you how much I loved this book…how much the “simple” act of loving, of reaching out beyond ourselves has far reaching consequences. A timely and beautiful challenge to me as a wife, mother, and friend. This book moved me to tears and Goudge’s characters mean SO much to me, her sense of place is WONDERFUL…I was transformed to this cathedral town. The nature descriptions were vivid and gorgeous. Sigh.

Emily Climbs by L.M. Montgomery (*****) – I adored this title. Even though I’m an avid L.M. Montgomery fan, this is the first time I’m going through this series. Oh my. This is the second in the series and we continue following Emily as she grows into a young woman and beautiful writer. I feel such a kinship to her thoughts and feelings on nature, people, and how so much beauty is running a constant thread through her mind and heart, just begging to get out and be shared with those around her. This one was my favorite between the first two and I’ve begun the third. I read somewhere that there are elements of autobiography in the Emily stories of Lucy Maud’s life.

Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen (*****) – This was a reread and if possible, I enjoyed it even more than the other times I’ve read it. It is SO quietly humorous and full of scathing criticisms that sneak up. I laughed so much while reading this, Miss Austen, you were brilliant.

Rising Ground: Search for the Spirit of Place by Philip Marsden (****) – I felt like the author and I were on a hike through Cornwall and south western part of Great Britain, chatting about the importance of home, of the religious significance of man-made rock formations, and the land, all connected with the people who lived and died here. I loved how this title opened up as Marsden was working on restoring an old home for his wife and children. This title was very specific to this area and I really loved the map in the front of the book and would refer to it often! Even though this was intellectually a bit heavy at times, Marsden is such a beautiful writer and I felt often transported to the various areas he was visiting by his love of the natural world and his close observations. He often chatted with various local connections and I felt like I was getting to know these people with him over tea and cake.

The only hard thing for me in this title was occasionally I got bogged down by all the terms of geological formations/landscape and place names. However, I really loved the definitions and translations that Marsden would give about Gaelic or Welsh words and the meanings behind them, overall he did a good job of sharing, stopping just at the point of getting a bit heavy/tedious. I’m very glad I stuck with this lovely travel, homey-ish memoir. I enjoyed it very much.

Gentian Hill by Elizabeth Goudge (*****) – English history, legends, sweet romance, mystery, deeply flawed, yet lovely characters, a quiet stone chapel, a lovely working farm, and a gorgeous, idyllic coastal English village make for another charming, beautiful, deeply moving story. I am just so blessed, inspired, and swept away after reading Goudge titles. I can’t tell you how much they make me hope again and want to love the people in my life deeper. She is so good at transporting you to the place and gently leading you into, through, and with the characters to profound spiritual truths. She isn’t afraid of stretching your imagination, following through generations, using visions, and sometimes bordering on spiritual mysticism. I love Goudge’s quirks and weird, magical bits for the most part though because the depth of everything all tied together creates such a sense of being right THERE.  Doctor Crane is my absolutely favorite character in this book! Old Sol is lovely too…and the main star of the book Stella Sprigg is so interesting too…sigh. Does it have to be over?

Boxers & Saints  by Gene Luen Yang (two separate titles)  (****) –  These graphic novels were recommended to me after I read Silence by Shusako Endo. These portrayed the Chinese Boxers and the Christian converts perspectives. My children and I found these so interesting, enlightening, and challenging. We liked the legends and myths of their Chinese heritage mixed in with the historical story. Violence and a little language.

Then There Was You by Kara Isaac (***) – 2.5 stars – The plot was interesting concept, the idea of seeing the internal workings of a mega church intrigued me. First, I feel a bit sick of stereotypical views of PK’s (preacher’s kids), so Josh’s secret was predictable, and the romance was meh – again mainly physical-attraction based vs. character, what was with him always loving seeing Paige disheveled? Maybe a subtle dig at pressure in church leadership to be “perfect”? Second, at times I felt breathless, like the writing was rushed? or just flowed without taking a breath? It made me tired.

 The Holy Bible (*****) – 1 & 2 Kings, Proverbs, Galatians, Ephesians.

 

Monday Ponderings {June 26}

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Many were the tears shed by them in their last adieus to a place so much beloved. ‘Dear, dear Norland!’ said Marianne, as she wandered alone before the house, on the last evening of their being there, ‘when shall I cease to regret you?  – when learn to feel at home elsewhere? – O happy house! Could you know what I suffer in now viewing you from this spot, from whence perhaps I may view you no more! – and you, ye well-known trees! – but you will continue the same – No leaf will decay because we are removed, nor any branch become motionless although we can observe you no longer! – No; you will continue the same; unconscious of the pleasure or the regret you occasion, and insensible of any change in those who walk under your shade!  – But who will remain to enjoy you?’ – Marianne Dashwood

Sense & Sensibility

Jane Austen

p. 17

(I can identify with these sentiments so much, especially since our move last year. A place, a home, a particular moment means so much to you, and when you leave it or are far removed by time and memory, you grieve. I love this so much as I contemplate the importance of sense of place, an extension of belonging.)

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Drystone Walls {English Memories}

 

Once Upon a Trip to England –

I can’t remember when my love of England really took root in my heart. Unable to pinpoint it, I know that it’s grown and been watered by the amazing literature and many of my favorite authors being from Great Britain. Elizabeth Goudge, Jane Austen, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Charlotte Mason, Miss Read, to name just a precious few. The descriptions of the beauty, the history, and charm of the people continue to soak into my heart. As an American, we have a large connection to England, really much of Europe, from the foundation and birth of our country.

Needless to say, to visit, was a wild idea, one that I still can’t believe came true. My husband was so supportive, and I will never forget the amount of work he took on for me to be able to go. Being able to go in June of 2016 with my mother and sister was unforgettable.

One of my first memories, oddly enough, is of the drystone walls and buildings. I had read so much of hedgerows and am fascinated by them, but delightedly, the stone took me by surprise. Hedgerows tend to be more in the south of England and unfortunately, I didn’t get as close look at these, however, in the north we were surrounded by the drystone walls.  The ancient history represented in each stacked stone made me feel a connection with the people who toiled over them. As I’ve been reading about them, I have found myself learning about decline of feudalism, sheep farming, the “sheep-creep” holes in the bottoms of the walls, and the barren, wild landscape unscathed by human touch, except these stone enclosures. Once again, so many relationships, connections, and beauty all in one little feature of the land.

I was curious if this technique of wall building followed immigrants to America, and it does seem like there miles of drystone walls in New England, especially, and I’d like to dig further. I think there is something about using part of ones natural landscape that really speaks to me and why I find these walls so beautiful. There is nothing like fog lying heavily over the vale and fells, miles of these stones stacked silently throughout.

For further reading, I found these two articles especially interesting: Drystone in England and The Walls of New England. I’d love to hear anything you may know on these walls and their history. Books of interest or personal stories, feel free to share!

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