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The Marquis’ Secret by George MacDonald

In 1875, George MacDonald, Scottish author, poet, and Christian minister, published the novel Malcolm, the rags-to-riches story of a common fisherman who finds his identity as a (Christian) gentleman. The sequel to Malcolm, The Marquis of Lossie, soon followed in 1877. This was the era of Charles Dickens and the other great Victorian novelists, and MacDonald was following in their tradition, with a bit of a difference. First of all, MacDonald, a friend and mentor to Lewis Carroll (Alice in Wonderland), was a pioneering author of fantasy (The Princess and the Goblin, At the Back of the North Wind, The Light Princess) as well as the realistic, romantic novels the Victorians had grown to love and read avidly. And MacDonald was emphatically a Scot. His novels almost all take place in Scotland or in a fantasy world that looks and sounds a lot like Scotland—–with all the heather and mountains and seas and kilts and bagpipes and thick Scottish brogue that such a setting implies.

In the 1980’s, Christian author Michael Phillips wanted to make MacDonald’s realistic fiction more accessible for a new generation. He edited the two volumes of Malcolm’s story and re-published them with the Gaelic language toned down and reinterpreted and with some of MacDonald’s long didactic passages either excised or edited to be shorter and more to the point. Phillips also gave the novels new titles, The Fisherman’s Lady and The Marquis’ Secret. You can purchase these updated versions (or borrow them from Meriadoc Homeschool Library). Or you can read Malcolm and The Marquis of Lossie in the original language online at Project Gutenberg or other online book sites.

In The Marquis’ Secret, Malcolm, who has been secretly told of his true identity, must decide how to handle the information and the responsibility he has inherited. There’s a running analogy in the book between the taming of a wild horse and the growth of a man (or woman) and the “taming” of that man’s (or woman’s) sin nature. As Malcolm must discipline and guide the horse, so the Lord must tame and discipline His children to bring them into the fullness of what He has created them to be.

The two novels that make up the story of Malcolm are all that modern literature is required not to be: melodramatic, yes; didactic, absolutely; one dimensional characters, yes, that too. Malcolm is a hero, through and through, although he says he has had to allow God to tame his temper and his passion for justice. The bad guys are obviously evil, but in MacDonald’s near-universalist worldview there is much hope for redemption for each of them. Nevertheless, sometimes a dose of hopeful preaching through Victorian drama with characters who are recognizably either good or bad (until the bad repent and become good) is just what the reading soul needs. If you want an absorbing drama that will leave you encouraged rather than discouraged about mankind and the depth of God’s mercy, George MacDonald’s Malcolm is just the ticket.

And if you’re in the Friendswood/Clear Lake/South Houston area this weekend, the play, Malcolm, is being performed by Selah Arts at Trinity Fellowship in Friendswood, May 26, 27, and 28th at 7:00 pm each evening.

The Hornet’s Nest by Sally Watson

In 1773, Ronald Cameron and his sister Lauchlin are busily waging their own private war against the oppressive Sassenach (English soldiers) as the two young Highlanders work and play around their Scottish home. Their parents fought the English invaders and supported the Stuart King Jamie and Bonnie Prince Charlie. Now Ronald and Laughlin believe it is their turn to carry on the struggle, especially when their elderly cousin Matthew from Virginia comes to visit and encourages their rebellion and love for liberty. However, when the sister and brother team get into real trouble with the occupation forces, their parents have no choice but to send them to Virginia to stay with their loyalist aunt, Lavinia Lennox.

The characters in Sally Watson’s Family Tree Series are all a part of the same family, the Lennoxes, and Cousin Matthew in this book is even studying his family genealogy. So there’s a running thread of family heritage and pugnacious, spunky traits that are handed down through the family, especially among the girls. The other books in the series are Linnet (London, 1582), Mistress Malapert (Shakespearean England, 1599), The Outrageous Oriel (English civil war, 1641), Loyal and the Dragon (English civil war, 1642), Witch of the Glens (Scotland, 1644), Lark (Puritan England, 1651), Highland Rebel (Jacobite revolution, 1745), and Jade (pirates in Colonial Virginia and the Caribbean). Read more here about how Ms. Watson’s books and characters are all related to each other.

I read at least some of these books when I was a kid of a girl, and I loved them then, especially Jade, the story of Melanie Lennox who frees a cargo of slaves headed for Virginia and becomes a pirate queen. The only ones of Ms. Watson’s books that I own are The Hornet’s Nest and Lark. But if any of you have any of her books lying around gathering dust, I would be happy to take them off your hands.

Characteristics of Ms. Watson’s heroines: outspokenness, a passion for justice, courage, over-confidence to the point of foolhardiness. These rather willful girls, mostly girls, make for interesting, exciting, adventurous stories, and of course, that’s the best kind. If you run across any of Ms. Watson’s novels for young people, I recommend them—even the ones I haven’t read yet.

The Fisherman’s Lady by George MacDonald

This book is half of George MacDonald’s novel, Malcolm, as edited by Michael R. Phillips, prolific author of Christian novels. The story is continued in another Phillips-edited novel, The Marquis’ Secret.

The Scots dialect and the didactic passages are heavy going for modern readers, so Phillips tried to make the romance novels that MacDonald wrote a bit more accessible. And he was quite successful in this necessary endeavor; at least it was necessary for me. Take a look at the following few lines from the beginning of MacDonald’s original 1823 book, Malcolm:

“Na, na; I hae nae feelin’s, I’m thankfu’ to say. I never kent ony guid come o’ them. They’re a terrible sicht i’ the gait.”
“Naebody ever thoucht o’ layin’ ‘t to yer chairge, mem.”
“‘Deed, I aye had eneuch adu to du the thing I had to du, no to say the thing ‘at naebody wad du but mysel’. I hae had nae leisur’ for feelin’s an’ that,” insisted Miss Horn.
But here a heavy step descending the stair just outside the room attracted her attention, and checking the flow of her speech perforce, with three ungainly strides she reached the landing.
“Watty Witherspail! Watty!” she called after the footsteps down the stair.
“Yes, mem,” answered a gruff voice from below.
“Watty, whan ye fess the bit boxie, jist pit a hemmer an’ a puckle nails i’ your pooch to men’ the hen hoose door. The tane maun be atten’t till as weel’s the tither.”

If you get more than the gist of that dialogue, you’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din. A whole book’s worth of deciphering that speech would be be a mighty task indeed.

Phillips begins with some description of the setting and the situation of the characters, and then he has Miss Horn say, “No, no. I’ve got no feelings, I’m thankful to say. I never knew any good to come to them.” Got it: Miss Horn prides herself upon having no feelings.

So, if you want to read the original, have at it; it’s available online at Project Gutenberg and probably elsewhere, too.. I’ll stick with the Phillips version, which has enough dialect and Scots flavor to keep me satisfied without confusing the reading too much.

Malcolm McPhail is a handsome and gentlemanly young fisherman with a mysterious past. Lady Florimel is the daughter of the present marquis, Lord Colonsay of Lossie. Duncan McPhail is a blind bagpiper and grandfather to Malcolm. As the story begins, a certain Lady Grizel has just died, and the Marquis is returning to his home near Portlossie on the Scottish coast where Malcom and his grandfather make their home.

I did think that some of the plot elements of MacDonald’s story were a little far-fetched, but then he was writing at about the same time as Dickens and the other Victorian novelists, and I don’t suppose MacDonald’s plot is any more unbelievable than some of Dickens’. (Charles Darnay and Sydney Carton practically twins? Oliver Twist just happens upon his long lost family in the middle of London?)

The Fisherman’s Lady ends with the death of one character and the revelation of a long-held family secret, but there is no real resolution to the dilemma of how to reconcile Malcolm’s fine and gentleman-like character with his lowly situation and class. The citizens of Scotland and England in the early nineteenth century were even more class conscious than those of early twentieth century Downton Abbey, and there’s wide, wide gulf between Malcolm the fisherman and the Lady Florimel. It remains to be seen, in The Marquis’ Secret, whether the author George MacDonald can bridge that gap with the revelation of secrets of parentage or the preaching of sermons about the equal standing of mankind before God.

The Hill of the Red Fox by Allan Campbell McLean

Spies. Lies. Danger.

That’s the subtitle teaser on the cover of my copy of The Hill of the Red Fox, a Scottish book, first published in 1955, but now available (2015) in a new paperback edition from Floris Books, in the series Kelpies Classics.

“The Kelpies are a highly-respected and much-loved range of children’s novels set in Scotland and suitable for 8 to 12 year olds. The Kelpies range includes classic children’s novels by Kathleen Fidler and award-winning contemporary children’s fiction by Lari Don.” from the website for Kelpies.

I think these books are available in the U.S. from:

Steiner Books Inc
c/o Books International
22883 Quicksilver Drive
Dulles, VA 20166
Telephone: 1-800-856 8664
service@steinerbooks.org

Maybe The Hill of the Red Fox is available from other sources, too. (Yes, click on the book cover picture for a link to Amazon.) I got my copy as an ARC for possible review.

And I did like the novel. It’s a Cold War spy novel. Thirteen year old Alisdair is of Scottish descent, but he’s grown up in London. He knows very little about actual life in rural Scotland, but he is unexpectedly allowed by his mother (father is dead) to go to visit an old friend of his father on the Isle of Skye. On his way to the Isle, a stranger gives Alisdair a mysterious message. Soon Alisdair is caught up in an old family feud and in a web of danger and espionage that may claim his very life.

The 1950’s setting is key to my enjoyment of this book. Alistair is given the privilege of traveling to the Islae of Skye alone on a train from London, and although his mother is somewhat concerned about him, she gives him lots of instructions and lets him go. Then, the events of the story conspire to mature Alisdair even more, and although he is a typical thirteen year old who makes some horrifically dangerous but well-meaning decisions, the author doesn’t tidy thing up for Alisdair. Events play out just as one would expect them to with the impetus of such risky and immature decisions, and Alisdair learns what it means to be a real man in a dangerous and risky world.

The spy/espionage part of the plot is a little hokey, but it’s not too bad. And I can’t believe that Alisdair doesn’t feel a wee bit of guilt for his part in how things turn out in the end. The descriptions of Scotland and of Scottish customs and characters such as the “ceilidh” (house party) and the “cailleach” (old woman with second sight) are fascinating and fit right into the story. The descriptions of the landscape and the sprinkling of Gaelic words and phrases through the book are fun, too.

If you want to read a book set in nearly modern day Scotland, and you like spy stories, I would recommend this one. It’s somewhat heart-rending, but really good.

Some other Kelpies I’d like to read someday:

The Blitz Next Door by Cathy Forde. “Pete’s new house in Clydebank near Glasgow would be fine if it wasn’t for the girl next door crying all the time. Except, there is no house next door. A vivid adventure story based on the Clydebank Blitz of 1941.”
The Nowhere Emporium by Ross MacKenzie. “When the mysterious Nowhere Emporium arrives in Glasgow, orphan Daniel gets drawn into its magical world.”
Pyrate’s Boy by E.B. Colin. “Silas, pyrate’s boy on the pirate ship Tenacity, has adventures from the West Indies to the west coast of Scotland.”
The Sign of the Black Dagger by Joan Lingard. “Four children, two hundred years apart, must uncover the secret of the Black Dagger in this fast-paced mystery by award-winning author Joan Lingard. Set in and around Edinburgh’s Royal Mile.”
The Accidental Time Traveller by Janis Mackay. “Saul has to work out time travel to return Agatha Black to 1812.”

The Anatomist’s Wife by Anna Lee Huber

First in a series, “A Lady Darby Mystery”, The Anatomist’s Wife takes place in Scotland, 1830. Lady Kiera Darby is a young woman, recently widowed and involved in a scandal related to her late doctor husband’s anatomical studies. As the story opens, Kiera has taken refuge with her sister’s family on their estate in Scotland, away from the vicious gossip of Edinburgh and London society.

Unfortunately for Lady Darby, when Lady Godwin is murdered (within the first few pages of the novel), Lady Darby is asked to assist Mr. Sebastian Gage in his inquiry into the crime. Not only is Mr. Gage a rake and perhaps somewhat brainless, he also may, like everyone else in the house party, suspect Kiera Darby of having some culpability in the murder. After all, Kiera’s reputation is still in shreds after her husband’s death and subsequent revelations about his work with dissecting dead bodies and having his wife draw them.(!)

There wasn’t really much Scottish atmosphere to be found in this mystery novel. The occupants of the manor call upon the services of a “procurator fiscal” rather than a coroner in the wake of the murder, and Kiera’s brother-in-law, Philip, lapses into Scots dialect a couple of times under stress. Other that that, the events in the novel could have taken place anywhere in England or Scotland or even Ireland or the continent without much change in the descriptions or the plot.

The post-Regency and pre-Victorian time period of the novel, makes it an interesting mix between what I think of as Regency promiscuity and profligacy and Victorian propriety and conventionality. The society women are appalled at Kiera’s history of having helped her husband in his study of human anatomy. And yet, these same ladies seem to be quite athletic in their pursuit of other women’s husbands. This moral schizophrenia affects the men, too, as when Gage explains to Keira that he is a rake, but certainly not a rogue: “I assure you, my lady, that were you closeted with a rogue rather than a rake, you would know the difference. If a rogue decided he wanted you, he would use all of the means at his disposal to persuade you, but ultimately he would debauch you whether you wished it or not. A rake would never dishonor a woman in such a way.” (In other words, he may be an adulterer and a cad, but at least he’s not a rapist.)

I found the ending to the book and the solution to the whodunnit rather unsatisfactory. The murderer turns out to be insane, with quite a thin motive for his or her actions. And those actions progress from a bloody and violent beginning to an even more brutal and murderous ending.So, finally, although it was good enough to keep me turning the pages, I found only few things to like about this mystery and many others to dislike: too much romance, not enough mystery, too much insanity, not enough sense, too much sexual immorality, not enough virtue, and too much generic setting, not enough Scotland. Fans of Georgette Heyer or other Regency/Victorian romance/mystery writers may enjoy this one more than I did. It wasn’t awful, just not what I was looking for.

If you want to do some more research in the area of Scottish mysteries or post-Regency era mysteries:

Rachel Knowles: When Is the Regency era?
Cozy Mystery Books with a Scottish Theme.
Books in Scotland: a resource for information on all the best in Scottish Books and Writers.

Scottish Chiefs and the Morning After

Last night, after grieving over the news and the state of our country, I took up my book and began to read. After all, it’s what I do. When times are bad or times are good, I read. I had already decided on a journey to Scotland for the month of May, and Scottish Chiefs by Jane Porter was the first book on my mental list.

I began reading:

“Bright was the summer of 1296. The war which had desolated Scotland was then at an end. Ambition seemed satiated; and the vanquished, after having passed under the yoke of their enemy, concluded they might wear their chains in peace. Such were the hopes of those Scottish nobleman who, early in the preceding spring, had signed the bond of submission to a ruthless conqueror, purchasing life at the price of all that makes life estimable,—liberty and honor.

Prior to this act of vassalage, Edward I., king of England, had entered Scotland at the head of an immense army. He seized Berwick by stratagem; laid the country in ashes; and on the field of Dunbar, forced the Scottish king and his nobles to acknowledge him their liege lord.

But while the courts of Edward, or of his representatives, were crowded by the humbled Scots, the spirit of one brave man remained unsubdued. Disgusted alike at the facility with which the sovereign of a warlike nation could resign his people and his crown into the hands of a treacherous invader, and at the pusillanimity of the nobles who had ratified the sacrifice, William Wallace retired to the glen of Ellerslie. Withdrawn from the world, he hoped to avoid the sight of oppressions he could not redress, and the endurance of injuries beyond his power to avenge.

Thus checked at the opening of life in the career of glory that was his passion, he repressed the eager aspirations of his mind, and strove to acquire that resignation to inevitable evils which alone could reconcile him to forego the promises of his youth, and enable him to view with patience the humiliation of Scotland, which blighted her honor, and consigned her sons to degradation or obscurity. The latter was the choice of Wallace. Too noble to bend his spirit to the usurper, too honest to affect submission, he resigned himself to the only way left of maintaining the independence of a true Scot; and giving up the world at once, all the ambitions of youth became extinguished in his breast. Scotland seemed proud of her chains. Not to share in such debasement seemed all that was now in his power.

The analogy is not perfect. We’ve submitted, not to a foreign invader, but to our very own pet demagogue. But the “degradation”, “pusillanimity”, “resignation”, and “inevitable evils” are all dismayingly familiar. I pray that I can view with patience the humiliation, blighted honor, and debasement that are imminent, indeed already at hand.

Wallace was not allowed his self-imposed exile for long. I doubt that those of us eschew the choice between the Demagogue and the other dishonest Democrat will be left alone for long either. We can enjoy our liberty while the summer lasts and hope to come back to fight again.

May in Scotland

I’ve decided, in honor of the musical theater production, based on George MacDonald’s romance novel Malcolm (aka The Fisherman’s Lady), that my girls are involved in this month, to make a quick, imaginary visit to Scotland during the merry month of May. I thought I’d link to some old posts about books set in Scotland and read a few new ones.

First the old:
Wee Gillis by Munro Leaf. I just read and posted about this picture book a couple of weeks ago.
The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley. Also a recent read, this novel is historical fiction set before, during and after the Jacobite attempted restoration in 1715 of James III of England and James VIII of Scotland, the Pretender, to the throne of Scotland.
Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett.
Queen’s Play by Dorothy Dunnett.
The Disorderly Knights by Dorothy Dunnett.

Pawn in Frankincense by Dorothy Dunnett.
Rescuing Seneca Crane by Susan Runholt.
The Island of Mad Scientists by Howard Whitehouse.
Hamish McBeth mysteries by M.C. Beaton.
The Sunday Philosophy Club by Alexander McCall Smith.
Caledonia, Legend of the Celtic Stone: An Epic Saga of Scotland and her People by Michael Phillips.
44 Scotland Street series by Alexander McCall Smith.

I’d like to read some of the books from this list during May and post about them for my hurried trip to Scotland:
Scottish Chiefs by Jane Porter.
Mrs. Tim Gets a Job by D.E. Stevenson.
The King’s Swift Rider by Mollie Hunter.
The Fields of Bannockburn by Donna Fletcher Crow.
Martin Farrell by Janni Howker.
Waverley by Sir Walter Scott.
Rob Roy by Sir Walter Scott.
Valiant Minstrel: The Story of Harry Lauder by Gladys Malvern. Sir Harry Lauder was a vaudeville singer and comedian from Scotland.
Malcolm, or The Fisherman’s Lady by George MacDonald.
The Marquis’ Secret by George MacDonald.
Sir Gibbie by George MacDonald.
How the Scots Invented the Modern World: The True Story of How Western Europe’s Poorest Nation Created Our World & Everything in It by Arthur Herman.
The Ringed Castle by Dorothy Dunnett. I’d like to finish this fifth book in the Lymond Chronicles, but my huge city library system doesn’t have this one. I may have to actually purchase it.
Checkmate by Dorothy Dunnett. And the sixth and final book in the series.
The Hornet’s Nest by Sally Watson.
Highland Rebel by Sally Watson.
The Anatomist’s Wife by Anna Lee Huber.
The King’s Swift Rider by Mollie Hunter.
Scottish Seas by Douglas M. Jones III.
The Flowers of the Field by Elizabeth Byrd.
In Freedom’s Cause: A Story of Wallace and Bruce by GA Henty.
Meggy MacIntosh: A Highland Girl in the Carolina Colony by Elizabeth Gray Vining.
Mary Queen of Scots and The Murder of Lord Darnley by Alison Weir.
Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole.

Then, here are some Scottish flavored books I’ve read but not reviewed here at Semicolon. I remember all of these as books I would recommend:
Immortal Queen by Elizabeth Byrd. Historical romance about Mary, Queen of Scots.
The Iron Lance by Stephen Lawhead.
The 39 Steps by John Buchan.
Beside the Bonnie Brier Bush by Ian MacLaren.. A collection of stories of church life in a glen called Drumtochty in Scotland in the 1800’s. Recommended.
The Little Minister by J.M. Barrie. I get this one mixed up in my head with the Bonnie Brier Bush because both are set in rural Scotland among church people, and both are good. Also recommended.
The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald.
The Princess and Curdie by George MacDonald.
The Queen’s Own Fool by Jane Yolen. Mary, Queen of Scots again.

Recommended by other friends and bloggers:
The Tartan Pimpernel by Donald Caskie. Reviewed by Barbara at Stray Thoughts.
Robert Burns’ poetry, highlighted at Stray Thoughts.
Thistle and Thyme by Sorche Nic Leodhas. I actually have this collection of Scottish folktales in my library, and I must read it this month.
Heather and Broom by Sorche Nic Leodhas.
Claymore and Kilt : Tales of Scottish Kings and Castles by Sorche Nic Leodhas.
The Scotswoman by Inglis Fletcher.
Guns in the Heather by Lockhart Amerman.
The Gardener’s Grandchildren by Barbara Willard.
Duncan’s War (Crown and Covenant #1) by Douglas Bond.
Outlaws of Ravenhurst by M. Imelda Wallace.
Quest for a Maid by Frances May Hendry.
Little House in the Highlands by Melissa Wiley.
Bonnie Dundee by Rosemary Sutcliff. “The beginnings of the Jacobite rebellion when King James fled to Holland.”
The Stronghold by Mollie Hunter.
The Lothian Run by Mollie Hunter.
The Three Hostages by John Buchan. Recommended by Carol at Journey and Destination.
Scotland’s Story by H.E. Marshall.

Movies set in Scotland:
Brigadooon. I like this one partly because of Gene Kelly, partly because it takes place in Scotland, and partly because Eldest Daughter was in a local production of Brigadoon several years ago.
Stone of Destiny. Recommended by HG at The Common Room. I enjoyed this movie based on a true incident in 1950 when four Scots student stole the Stone of Scone from Westminster Abbey and returned it to Scotland from whence it came back in the thirteenth century.
Braveheart. William Wallace and all that jazz.

Scots poetry:
Young Lochinvar by Sir Walter Scott.
From Marmion by Sir Walter Scott.
My Luve’s Like a Red, Red Rose by Robert Burns.
In the Prospect of Death by Robert Burns.
Lament for Culloden by Robert Burns.
Beneath the Cross of Jesus by Elizabeth Clephane.
O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go by George Matheson.

If you have anything posted at your blog that tastes of Scottish heritage or culture, let me know, and I’ll add a link to your book review or post in this round-up of all things Scots. Or if you have a book or even a movie to recommend, leave me a comment. I’ll keep this post on the front page during May, and I’ll be adding to it as my journey progresses. You are welcome to travel to Scotland with me this month, and we will see what there is to see.

The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz

I don’t really want to summarize the plot of this novel because for me it wasn’t about the plot. In fact, as an older teen or an adult reads the book, he or she can pretty well predict what’s going to happen to fourteen year old Joan as she goes from life on the farm to the big city of Baltimore to escape her father and find a new life for herself in 1911. Her only real knowledge of life comes from a few chance remarks from her beloved teacher, Miss Chandler, and from the three novels that Miss Chandler gave her: Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, and Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott. Just think what your ideas about how the world works would be if you had grown up rather isolated on a farm with an emotionally abusive father, a devoted but sickly mother, and those three novels to inform your views. I haven’t read Dombey and Son, but I can easily imagine the romantic excesses that Jane Eyre and Ivanhoe might lead one to commit. And Joan is just the sort of strong, passionate, naive girl to get her self into quite a bit of trouble, well-meaning but a bull in a china closet.

The Hired Girl is a diary novel; Ms. Schlitz allows us to see into the mind and motivations of a fourteen year old Catholic housemaid in a Jewish household in the early part of the twentieth century. And the author gets Joan’s voice just right. I really believed in this innocent but intelligent girl, hard-working, trying to become a “refined lady”, confident yet dangerously naive. She reminded me of Jo March, without the nervous energy of a March daughter, or Anne Shirley with a somewhat harder road to hoe. Joan, who calls herself “Janet” to disguise her identity, lucks out in that she gets a job with a kind, rich Jewish family, but she does not get a Matthew or a Marilla to adopt her and treat her as a daughter, although she almost gets a substitute father and mother in her employer and the elderly housekeeper that she works with. She also, like Anne, lets her passionate nature and impulsivity get her into a lot of scrapes, but Joan/Janet’s scrapes are quite a bit more serious and even dangerous than Anne’s ever were. (That’s why the book is for older teens, at least the age of the main character or older.)

And yet the book is funny. I laughed out loud sometimes at Joan’s artlessness and enthusiasm. And I became very anxious when I saw the direction in which her decisions were taking her. It’s a direction that the reader will know is bound to lead to disaster, even though Joan, caught up in imagining herself as the heroine of one of her favorite novels, is oblivious to the impending ruin that her innocence and ignorance are inviting. The juxtaposition of Joan’s rather immature but devoted Catholicism and the sophisticated, ingrained Judaism of her employer’s family was quite well-written and so intriguing. Not many writers can write religion and religious differences both convincingly and respectfully.

I can only imagine the skill and hard work that were required for Ms. Schlitz to pull this novel together, make its voice, that of a fourteen year old innocent, true and convincing, and still show the reader what is going on behind the scenes, in the minds and decisions of the other characters in the novel. I’d recommend The Hired Girl to mature teens and adults. Anyone who’s ready for Jane Eyre should be ready for this one, too, although I suppose an argument could be made that fourteen year old Joan wasn’t quite ready to really understand and interpret Jane Eyre in all its full meaning. It’s an interesting question. What novel(s) could Miss Chandler have given Joan that would have better prepared her for living as a hired girl in the city? (Not that Miss Chandler knew that Joan would be running away to the city.)

Maybe she should have read Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser, published in 1900, as a sort of cautionary tale. Or Madame Bovary. But maybe the lessons of those adult novels would have gone right over her head.

The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley

The Winter Sea is a novel of historical fiction set before, during and after the Jacobite attempted restoration in 1715 of James III of England and James VIII of Scotland, the Pretender, to the throne of Scotland, recently merged with, or sold to, the English government, much to the dismay of some Scots. A twenty-first century author, Carrie McClelland, is writing a book about Sophia Paterson, an 18th century ancestress of hers who lived during the Jacobite uprising. Both women find romance as their memories become intertwined.

What I liked:

Set in Scotland. What’s not to like about Scotland? Oh, if only all men were born with a Scots accent. But then I suppose it wouldn’t be so appealing, just normal.

The historical information. Granted there’s a lot of telling. Instead of having the characters in the thick of the action as James Stuart, the Pretender, tries to reclaim the throne of Scotland and England from his sister Anne, they are mostly on the sidelines. Watching and waiting are the occupations of the 18th century heroine, Sophia, and researching and channeling dead voices take up almost all of the days and nights of the author, Carrie McClelland, who is writing about Sophia and her adventures. Nevertheless, there’s a great deal of history in the book, and I liked that aspect.

The genealogy angle. The two intertwined stories that make up this romance novel are all about history and the main present day character’s genealogy. In fact, Sophia and others in the past turn out to be related to the author, Carrie, who is writing a historical novel. Yes, it gets a tad confusing, just as real genealogical research does, but I enjoyed all the who’s-related-to-whom stuff.

What I disliked:

Bed before wed. As in most romance novels (and movies) of the twenty-first century variety, the author/heroine and her hero/love interest are abed together before the ink can dry on the page telling of their mutual attraction. I find this disheartening, but at least the reader is spared a graphic description of their sexual adventures. This issue is one major reason I do not read romance novels, not even historical romance novels which might appeal to me because of the history. The historical pair are sorta, kinda married before they engage in marital relations, but only just barely. At least there’s a commitment between the two.

Male possessiveness. Both of the male leads tell their respective inamoratas: “you were mine from the moment I met you”, or something to that effect. And both are fond giving orders and expecting them to be obeyed, even though Carrie, at least, is described as an “independent woman.” I didn’t like the possessiveness that Grant and Moray exhibited.

Florid writing. Romances tend toward purple prose, which is another reason I don’t usually care for them. Here’s a mild example from this novel, chosen at random: “For that swirling moment, all she felt was him—his warmth, his touch, his strength, and when he raised his head she rocked towards him, helplessly off balance.”

So, you can probably judge from all that to-and-fro whether or not this historical fiction novel is for you. If so, enjoy. If not, but you still want some 18th century England/Scotland setting historical fiction, try:

The History of Henry Esmond, Esq. by William Makepeace Thackeray. 1691-1718. England.
Rob Roy by Sir Walter Scott. 1715-1719. Scotland and England.
Devil Water by Anya Seton. 1715-17??. England and America.
The Sound of Coaches by Leon Garfield. England.
Smith: The Story of a Pickpocket by Leon Garfield. England.
Waverley by Sir Walter Scott. 1745. Scotland.
Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson. 1750’s. Scotland.
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. 1750’s. England and the ocean-sea.
Mutiny on the Bounty by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall. 1789. South Seas.
Mr. Midshipman Hornblower by C.S. Forrester. 1793.

Or, if you just want something set in Scotland, I can recommend:

Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett.
44 Scotland Street series by Alexander McCall Smith.
The 39 Steps by John Buchan.
Scottish Chiefs by Jane Porter.
Mrs. Tim Gets a Job by D.E. Stevenson.
The King’s Swift Rider by Mollie Hunter.
Immortal Queen by Elizabeth Byrd.
The Iron Lance by Stephen Lawhead.
The Fields of Bannockburn by Donna Fletcher Crow.

The Hawk and the Dove by Penelope Wilcock

It was Easter, two years after Father Peregrine had come to be their abbott. Easter, the greatest feast of the Christian year, and all the local people had come up to the abbey, and the guest house was full of pilgrims come to celebrate the feast of the Resurrection. So many people, so many processions, so much music! So many preparations to be made by the singers, the readers, those who served at the altar and those served in the guest house, not to mention those who worked in the kitchens and the stables. The abbey was bursting with guests, neighbors, relatives, and strangers.

The Easter Vigil was mysterious and beautiful, with the imagery of fire and water and the Paschal candle lit in the great, vaulted dimness of the abbey church. Brother Gilbert the precentor’s voice mounted joyfully in the triumphant beauty of the Exultet; all the bells rang out for the risen Lord, and the voices of the choirboys from the abbey school soared with heart-breaking loveliness in the music declaring the risen life of Jesus. Easter Day itself was radiant with sunshine for once, as well as celebration. Oh, the joyful splendor of a church crammed full of people, a thundering of voices singing, ‘Credo –I believe.’

In The Hawk and the Dove by Penelope Wilcock, an English mother tells her daughters, especially her fifteen-going-on-grown-up daughter Melissa, stories about their long ago ancestor, the abbot of a Benedictine abbey, and the monks under his care. The stories are deceptively simple and quotidian: stories of forgiveness asked and given, monks who are injured and need healing, others who don’t fit into the abbey life and must learn to do so. However, these are the same issues that Melissa, her mother and sisters must deal with in daily family life, and they’re the same things we try to iron out and work through here at Semicolon House.

In the other two books in the trilogy, the brothers of St. Alcuin monastery continue to work together and grow in community. They also grow older and must confront the difficulties that old age brings in its train. In fact, the third book in the series is about death and dying and living with serious impairments —all to the glory of God. It’s quite timely in these days of “death with diginity” and compassion redefined as hurrying the dying into death, but it may be a bit too much for children. Again, I think the entire family will enjoy at least the first two books in the trilogy.

A few more excerpts:

“Theodore saw his hopes of a new beginning turn to ashes in the miserable discovery that even men who had given their whole lives to follow Christ could be irritable, sharp-tongued, and hasty.” How many new Christians upon becoming involved in a church have stumbled over that particular realization? Monasteries, and churches, are simply places for imperfect people to come and begin to learn to serve and show kindness and love, not places where the already perfected live in flawless harmony.

Fifteen year old Melissa to her teacher in English class: “Mother says, that love is only true love when it shows itself in fidelity, —ummmm, faithfulness. She says if a person has the feeling of love, but no faithfulness, his love is just self-indulgent sentimentality. And that’s what Shelley was like, isn’t it? He wrote fine peoms to his wife and his lovers, but he wasn’t a faithful man. So how can his poetry about love be worth anything if his love in real life wasn’t worth anything?” From the mouths of babes, can an untrue person write truly? Can he write true poetry that he hasn’t lived in some fashion, however imperfectly?

“Mother said these stories were true, and I never knew her tell a lie . . . but then you could never be quite sure what she meant by “truth”; fact didn’t always come into it.”

I assure you that the stories in Ms. Wilcock’s Hawk and the Dove trilogy are quite true —as fiction sometimes is.