Dreamwood by Heather Mackey

Lucy Darrington, age twelve, runs away from her school in San Francisco and rides a train to the Pacific Northwest where her father, a scientist and expert ghost clearer, has been searching for a job. Mr. Darrington promised Lucy that he would send for her as soon as he got settled, but Lucy hates her prim and proper nineteenth century school so much that she just can’t wait.

When Lucy arrives in Saarthe, the place where her father is supposed to be living, she finds that he has gone missing. Lucy’s father is probably lost on a peninsula called The Devil’s Thumb, where a rare and magical tree called the Dreamwood may hold the key to curing the Rust, a blight that is killing all of the trees. If Lucy goes in search of her father, will she get lost in the Dreamwood, too?

The unusual setting for this middle grade fantasy deserves a bit of analysis and meditation all on its own. The scene is recognizable as the Pacific Northwest: north of San Francisco, trees and lumberjacks, totems and native peoples, Pacific Ocean to the west. The time period is “forty years after the bloody North-South War,” so perhaps around the turn of the century? However, instead of the United States, we read about “the American States” juxtaposed against “the First People’s Federation territory.” The author says she chose to “imagine an America where—in some places, perhaps—there was a different outcome to the wars and policies that have shaped the history of indigenous peoples on this continent.” Part of that different outcome involves an imagined group called the Lupine Nation, whose princess, Niwa, becomes Lucy’s friend and encourager.

So, we could add this fantasy to a “diversity in middle grade speculative fiction” list, even though Niwa is not the leading character in the novel. Not many middle grade fantasies involve Native American peoples at all, real or imaginary ones. The villain of the piece is the typical Big Businessman. (Why are all fantasy villains either fat greedy businessmen or skinny witches?) The children who go on the quest to find Mr. Darrington and the Dreamwood, Lucy and her friend Pete, are typically intrepid and tenacious, but they do have faults which are teased out in the narrative as their journey uncovers their weaknesses and causes growth in character and in wisdom for the children.

As I began reading about ghost clearing and magical trees, I wasn’t sure I’d like this one, but I did. The ending is as unusual as the rest of the novel, and I”m still not sure what to think about the sacrifice that is required of Lucy in the end. But it did make me think, which is always a good thing. The Dreamwood forest reminded me of Tolkien’s forests and Old Man Willow, dark and dangerous. The exorcism-as-a-business-opportunity reminded of Jonathan Stroud’s recent Lockwood & Co. series. And the atmosphere and setting as a whole were unique and enthralling.

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This book is also nominated for a Cybil Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.

Anna’s Book by Barbara Vine

Anna Westerby is a Danish wife living in London around the turn of the nineteenth to the twentieth century. She is not a very nice person. Although conventionally moral, Anna dislikes her husband and only has a tempered affection for her two young sons. She can’t stand most of her neighbors, and her only happiness in life is the prospect that her expected third child will be a daughter, someone she can understand and love and share a life with.

We learn all of this information about Anna’s affections and distastes from excerpts of her journal, a journal that she keeps secretly from sometime in 1905 until an event in the 1950’s(?) causes her to stop writing. Anna does get her hoped-for daughter, and the two do share a special bond. The story moves back and forth between Anna’s early adult life, captured in her journals, and her old age and beyond, recounted by her granddaughter, Ann. There’s a mystery concerning Swanny, the beloved daughter, and whether or not Anna is an unreliable narrator or just a forgetful and somewhat incendiary old lady who enjoys conjuring up drama.

Barbara Vine is the pseudonymous “alter-ego” of mystery writer Ruth Rendell, and under the two names Ms. Rendell has written more than fifty published novels. Anna’s Book (originally published in the UK as Asta’s Book) is, like the others in her body of work, a suspense novel that majors on characterizations and psychological analysis. The book does a great job of picking apart the complicated psychological motives and inner workings of the various characters and then patiently putting them back together again, like Humpty Dumpty, to form a satisfying plot and a conclusion.

It’s not an action suspense thriller, but if you enjoy trying to figure people out and attempting to unravel historical mysteries, Anna’s Book might be just the ticket for a long winter’s night read.

More information on Barbara Vine and her books:
Fatal Inversions: A Barbara Vine Information Web(site)
Anna’s Book reviewed at Jenny’s Books.
Anna’s Book reviewed by Superfast Reader

1905: Music and Art

“In My Merry Oldsmobile” is a popular song from 1905, with music by Gus Edwards and lyrics by Vincent P. Bryan.

Verse 1
Young Johnny Steele has an Oldsmobile
He loves his dear little girl
She is the queen of his gas machine
She has his heart in a whirl
Now when they go for a spin, you know,
She tries to learn the auto, so
He lets her steer, while he gets her ear
And whispers soft and low…
Verse 2
'1905 Curved-Dash Oldsmobile' photo (c) 2007, Don O'Brien - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/They love to spark in the dark old park
As they go flying along
She says she knows why the motor goes
The sparker is awfully strong
Each day they spoon to the engine’s tune
Their honeymoon will happen soon
He’ll win Lucille with his Oldsmobile
And then he’ll fondly croon…
Chorus
Come away with me, Lucille
In my merry Oldsmobile
Down the road of life we’ll fly
Automobubbling, you and I
To the church we’ll swiftly steal
Then our wedding bells will peal
You can go as far as you like with me
In my merry Oldsmobile.

Automobubbling? Will my students know what it means to spoon or spark? Do you think they can tell from the context?

Also in 1905, Henri Matisse and a group of artists now known as “les Fauves” (the wild beasts) exhibited together in a room at the Salon d’Automne. The paintings expressed emotion with wild colors and a disregard for realism. This painting by Matisse is called “Woman in a Kimono”, and it displays the style of les Fauves.

'Henri Matisse - Woman in a Kimono 1906' photo (c) 2010, Tony Hisgett - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

For more information about the culture and times of one particular place, Boston, in 1905, take a look at this blog: Dateline: Boston, 1905.

1905: Events and Inventions

January 22, 1905. Bloody Sunday. In St. Petersburg, 10,000 workers and their families march to the Winter Palace to petition Czar Nicholas II for better working conditions. Cossack troops fire on the unarmed crowd, killing over 100 of the demonstrators and injuring many hundreds more.

January 25, 190. Frederick Wells, a mine supervisor in Transvaal, discovers the largest diamond ever found, weighing 3106.75 carats or 1.33 lbs. Transvaal (now called South Africa) was a British colony in 1905, and the jewel eventually became part of the British Crown Jewels after it was presented to King Edward VII on his birthday in 1907. The diamond is called the Cullinan diamond or The Star of Africa.

February 17, 1905. As his carriage passes through the Kremlin gates in Moscow, Grand Duke Sergei Aleksandrovich, the uncle of Czar Nicholas II and one his chief advisors, is killed by a bomb thrown onto his lap.

May 28, 1905. The Japanese navy sinks twelve Russian warships in the Strait of Tsushima, ending Russian hopes of winning the war with Japan at sea. The war continues to go badly for Russia on land as well, and the Czar and his government face continued civil unrest at home as peasants and workers demand the right to vote and to be democratically governed.

July 24, 1905. Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany and Czar Nicholas II meet in Russia and agree to conclude a secret treaty of alliance between the two countries. They plan to invite France to join this secret defensive alliance, but Russian ministers opposed such an alliance.

August 13, 1905. Norway votes to end its union Sweden which dated back to the 1814 Treaty of Kiel. Norway becomes (again) an independent country and in November the Norwegians invite Prince Charles of Denmark to become their new king.

September 5, 1905. President Teddy Roosevelt of the United States is instrumental in bringing the Russians and the Japanese to sign the treaty of Portsmouth, ending the war in Korea and Manchuria. The Japanese and the Russians agree to withdraw from Manchuria, but the Japanese are to have free rein in Korea and in the formerly Russian ports of Dalny and Port Arthur in Manchuria.

September 7, 1905. More than 1000 people have died in the oil fields of Baku (Azerbaijan) as fighting continues between the Armenians and Tartars, encouraged by Turkish propaganda. The Russian government has not taken action to reconcile the two groups, and oil production is being destroyed by raging fires as a result of the fighting.

October 30, 1905. In a new manifesto, Czar Nicholas II promises Russians limited civil and voting rights and an elected parliament, the Duma.

October, 1905. British suffragettes Emmeline Pankhurst and Annie Kenney prefer to go to prison rather than pay fines for an assault conviction. The suffragettes say that they are tired of waiting for the right to vote and they are willing to use violence and hunger strikes in prison to gain their victory.

1905: Books and Literature

The Noble Prize for Literature was awarded to Henryk Sienkiewicz. Kirjasto calls him a “Polish novelist, a storyteller, and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1905.” Also, “His strongly Catholic worldview deeply marked his writing.” He wrote the historical fiction novels With Fire and Sword, The Deluge, Pan Michael, and Quo Vadis?.

Fiction Bestsellers:
1. Mary Augusta Ward, The Marriage of William Ashe Love and marriage in British society turns into disgrace and death as William Ashe and his nineteen year old bride, Kitty, wreck their marriage with jealousy and bad decisions.
2. Alice Hegan Rice, Sandy
3. Robert Smythe Hichens, The Garden of Allah A Trappist monk runs away from his vows into the North African desert.
4. Thomas Dixon Jr., The Clansman This book was the inspiration for DW Griffith’s 1915 silent movie The Birth of a Nation. It was a novel (and a movie) that glorified white supremacy, racial segregation, and the Ku Klux Klan.
5. George Barr McCutcheon, Nedra
6. Katherine Cecil Thurston, The Gambler
7. Katherine Cecil Thurston, The Masquerader (alternate title: John Chilcote)
8. Edith Wharton, The House of Mirth I think Edith Wharton is almost as good a writer and observer of human nature as Jane Austen. Here are my thoughts on House of Mirth.
9. C. N. and A. M. Williamson, The Princess Passes
10. Kate Douglas Wiggin, Rose o’ the River

Critically Acclaimed and Historically Significant:
Albert Einstein, Special Theory of Relativity
Lincoln Steffens, Shame of the Cities
Mary Chesnut, Diary from Dixie I have Ms. Chesnut’s diary, but I haven’t read it. Ken Burns quoted from Mary Chesnut’s diary extensively in his Civil War series, and she seems to have been a keen observer of the Southern civilian experience during the war.
The Return of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Because fans were reluctant to let him go, this collection of short stories about the famous detective resurrects him from the dead and brings him back to entertain more readers.
Baroness Orczy, The Scarlet Pimpernel This one is really fun. Set during the French revolution, the novels chronicles the adventures of a British lord who goes undercover to rescue French nobles who are bound for the guillotine. Read with A Tale of Two Cities by Dickens for a taste of the British perspective on those crazy “Frenchies.”

“We seek him here, we seek him there,
Those Frenchies seek him everywhere.
Is he in heaven? — Is he in hell?
That damned, elusive Pimpernel.”

G.K. Chesterton, Heretics and Orthodoxy. Semicolon thoughts on Orthodoxy and G.K. Chesterton.

March 14th Birthdays

Arthur William Edgar O’Shaughnesy, English poet, b 1844.
Albert Einstein, scientist, b. 1879. This year is the centennial of Einstein’s “Annus Mirabilis,” his miracle year of 1905, during which he created the Special Theory of Relativity and the quantum theory of light, explained in one paper Brownian motion and in another how to determine the size of atoms or molecules in space, and extended the theory of relativity to include the famous equation E-mc squared. He did all this while working forty hours a week in a patent office. I don’t have a clue what any of these discoveries really mean, but I’m impressed with the Einstein miracle.

“I know quite certainly that I myself have no special talent; curiosity, obsession and dogged endurance, combined with self-criticism have brought me to my ideas.” Albert Einstein

Marguerite DeAngeli, author of 1950’s Newbery-award winning book, The Door in the Wall, b. 1889. In this favorite quote from The Door in the Wall, Brother Matthew is speaking to Robin, a boy who has been crippled probably by polio:

“Whether thou’lt walk soon I know not. This I know. We must teach thy hands to be skillful in many ways, and we must teach thy mind to go about whether thy legs will carry thee or no. For reading is another door in the wall, dost understand, my son?”

That quote reminds me of this book reviewed by Camille at Book Moot. I read Mind’s Eye by Paul Fleischman a month or so ago on her recommendation, but I forgot to blog about it. What Camille said.

Edith Wharton and House of Mirth

I finished reading The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton. I’m still trying to figure out what the title means. If you know, don’t tell me. I’d like to figure it out myself.

I found this information about Edith Wharton:
She did not go to school, but educated herself by reading in her father’s “gentleman’s library,” and was given lessons by a governess
Another homeschooled genius.

I liked the book very much although it was sad. I was reminded of a professor I had in college who said something to the effect that every time he read Romeo and Juliet he hoped against hope that somehow the story would turn out differently, that Romeo would arrive at the right time or that Juliet would wake up just a little sooner. In The House of Mirth, the main character, Lily Bart, is always just a little too late or a little too trusting or a little too scrupulous or a little too unsure of herself. She’s trapped in a society that pushes her toward a materialistic and loveless marriage of convenience, and she tries to fight against the pressure. However, she never fights hard enough or soon enough, and of course, it’s obvious from the beginning that the novel must end in tragedy. Romeo and Juliet, Lily and Selden, neither couple can live happily ever after. At least, Juliet knows she wants Romeo. They’re just “star-crossed lovers.” Lily Bart knows how to get what she wants; unfortunately, she never does figure out exactly what it is she wants. May we, unlike Lily, figure out what is really important in life before it’s too late.