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.

Playground by Mies Van Hout

Originally published in the Netherlands under the title Speeltuin, this visually rich and colorful picture book is fun to look through, if a little confusing. The pictures are stunning, busy, and lively. The plot is almost non-existent: two children travel through the pages of this colorful world on their way to The Playground. The reader is invited to “take an exciting trip through this book! Find the way with your finger. These red arrows on each page show you where to start and where to go next.”

Maybe I just don’t get it, but the arrows seem unnecessary. If a child reader wants to run his finger over the double page spreads of rather abstract landscapes, I can’t see how the arrow on the edge of each page helps. But the adventure in art is enticing, and as the two children collect animal friends on each page to accompany them on their journey, the illustrations become more and more imaginative. I can see how this book would inspire children to create their own artistic journey-scape.

The ending is . . . disappointing. Perhaps the author/illustrator is trying to show that the journey is more interesting than the destination, or maybe I’m reading too much into it. At any rate, I would let children explore this book on their own and see what they come up with. Maybe start them on the adventure with the invitation, “Let’s go to the playground! Are you coming?”, but the text, translated from the Dutch, is fairly basic and dull. In fact, I can see this one as a wordless book, and it might work better that way.

Enjoy the color. (Did I mention that the book is very colorful?)

Saturday Review of Books: May 14, 2016

“Literature can be the salve for a weary heart. I do not mean directly; I do not think literature is a form of therapy. I mean that books enable students to experience an extraordinary range of emotions in 180 days” ~Nick Ripatrazone

SatReviewbutton

Welcome to the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon. Here’s how it usually works. Find a book review on your blog posted sometime during the previous week. The review doesn’t have to be a formal sort of thing. You can link to your thoughts on a particular book, a few ideas inspired by reading the book, your evaluation, quotations, whatever.

Then on Friday night/Saturday, you post a link here at Semicolon in Mr. Linky to the specific post where you’ve written your book review. Don’t link to your main blog page because this kind of link makes it hard to find the book review, especially when people drop in later after you’ve added new content to your blog. In parentheses after your name, add the title of the book you’re reviewing. This addition will help people to find the reviews they’re most interested in reading.

After linking to your own reviews, you can spend as long as you want reading the reviews of other bloggers for the week and adding to your wishlist of books to read.

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.

Thank You, #NeverTrump

The following pundits, pols, and celebs have indicated that they will NOT support Donald Trump:

Rep. Justin Amash (Mich.)

Gov. Charlie Baker (Mass.)

Brian Bartlett, former Mitt Romney aide and GOP communications strategist

Glenn Beck, radio host

Michael Berry, radio host

Max Boot, former foreign policy adviser to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.)

Brent Bozell, conservative activist

Former Gov. Jeb Bush (Fla.)

Bruce Carroll, creator GayPatriot.org

Jay Caruso, RedState

Mona Charen, senior fellow at Ethics and Public Policy Center

Linda Chavez, columnist

Dean Clancy, former FreedomWorks vice president

Eliot Cohen, former George W. Bush official

Former Sen. Norm Coleman (Minn.)

Charles C. W. Cooke, writer for National Review

Doug Coon, Stay Right podcast

Rory Cooper, GOP strategist, managing director Purple Strategies

Jim Cunneen, former Calif. assemblyman

Rep. Carlos Curbelo (Fla.)

Steve Deace, radio host

Rep. Bob Dold (Ill.)

Erick Erickson, writer

Mindy Finn, president, Empowered Women

David French, writer at National Review

Jon Gabriel, editor-in-chief, Ricochet.com

Michael Graham, radio host

Jonah Goldberg, writer

Alan Goldsmith, former staffer, House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

Stephen Gutowski, writer Washington Free Beacon

Rep. Richard Hanna (N.Y.)

Jamie Brown Hantman, former special assistant for legislative affairs for President George W. Bush

Stephen Hayes, senior writer at The Weekly Standard

Doug Heye, former RNC communications director

Quin Hillyer, contributing editor at National Review Online; senior editor at the American Spectator

Ben Howe, RedState writer

Former Rep. Bob Inglis (S.C.)

Cheri Jacobus, GOP consultant and former Hill columnist

Robert Kagan, former Reagan official

Randy Kendrick, GOP mega-donor

Matt Kibbe, former FreedomWorks CEO

Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.)

Philip Klein, managing editor at the Washington Examiner

Bill Kristol, The Weekly Standard editor

Mark Levin, radio host

Justin LoFranco, former Scott Walker aide

Kevin Madden, former Mitt Romney aide

Bethany Mandel, senior contributor at The Federalist

Tucker Martin, former Gov. Bob McDonnell’s (R-Va.) communications director

Former RNC Chairman Mel Martínez (Fla.)

Liz Mair, GOP strategist

Lachlan Markey, writer for the Free Beacon

Mary Matalin, political strategist

David McIntosh, Club for Growth president

Dan McLaughlin, editor at RedState.com

Ken Mehlman, former RNC chairman

Tim Miller, Our Principles PAC

Russell Moore, president of the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission

Joyce Mulliken, former Washington state senator

Ted Newton, political consultant & former Mitt Romney aide

James Nuzzo, former White House aide

Katie Packer, chairwoman of Our Principles PAC

Former Gov. George Pataki (N.Y.)

Former Rep. Ron Paul (Texas)

Katie Pavlich, Townhall editor and Hill columnist

Brittany Pounders, conservative writer

Rep. Reid Ribble (Wis.)

Marlene Ricketts, GOP mega-donor

Former Gov. Tom Ridge (Pa.)

Rep. Scott Rigell (Va.)

Mitt Romney, 2012 GOP presidential nominee

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Fla.)

Paul Rosenzweig, former deputy assistant secretary, Department of Homeland Security

Jennifer Rubin, Washington Post conservative blogger

Patrick Ruffini, partner, Echelon Insights

Sarah Rumpf, former BreitBart contributor

Mark Salter, writer and former aide to John McCain, wrote “”Are we in such dire straits that we must dispense with civility, kindness, tolerance and normal decency to put a mean-spirited, lying jerk in the White House?”

Rep. Mark Sanford (S.C.)

Sen. Ben Sasse (Neb.)

Elliott Schwartz, Our Principles PAC

Gabriel Schoenfeld, senior fellow, Hudson Institute

Tara Setmayer, CNN analyst and former GOP staffer

Ben Shapiro, editor-in-chief The Daily Wire

Evan Siegfried, GOP strategist and commentator

Ben Stein, actor and political commentator

Brendan Steinhauser, GOP consultant

Stuart Stevens, former Romney strategist

Paul Singer, GOP mega-donor

Erik Soderstrom, former field director for Carly Fiorina

Charlie Sykes, radio host

Brad Thor, writer

Michael R. Treiser, former Mitt Romney aide

Daniel P. Vajdich, former national security adviser to Ted Cruz

Connor Walsh, former digital director for former Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), founder Build Digital

Former Rep. J.C. Watts (Okla.)

Peter Wehner, New York Times contributor

Former Gov. Christine Todd Whitman (N.J.)

Meg Whitman, the CEO of Hewlett Packard declared Trump “unfit to be president.”

George Will, writer

Rick Wilson, Republican strategist

Nathan Wurtzel, Make America Awesome super-PAC

Bill Yarbrough, chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus of Ohio

Dave Yost, Ohio auditor of state

Thank you. I have one question for Republicans who want my vote in November. Are you supporting or have you endorsed Donald Trump? If affirmative, then I will not vote for you.

I have voted Republican for approximately 35 years, but now I am no longer bound to any sort of party loyalty. I will be evaluating candidates individually and carefully. One “test” will be whether or not the candidate was able to hold up to the incredible pressure that will be applied to make him or her toe the line and fall in for Trump. If so, this #neverTrump candidate is one who will be able to stand up for principle under pressure in Austin or Washington, D.C.

Saturday Review of Books: May 7, 2016

“We have grown to associate morality in a book with a kind of optimism and prettiness; according to us, a moral book is a book about moral people. But the old idea was almost the opposite; a moral book was a book about immoral people.” ~G.K. Chesterton

SatReviewbutton

Welcome to the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon. Here’s how it usually works. Find a book review on your blog posted sometime during the previous week. The review doesn’t have to be a formal sort of thing. You can link to your thoughts on a particular book, a few ideas inspired by reading the book, your evaluation, quotations, whatever.

Then on Friday night/Saturday, you post a link here at Semicolon in Mr. Linky to the specific post where you’ve written your book review. Don’t link to your main blog page because this kind of link makes it hard to find the book review, especially when people drop in later after you’ve added new content to your blog. In parentheses after your name, add the title of the book you’re reviewing. This addition will help people to find the reviews they’re most interested in reading.

After linking to your own reviews, you can spend as long as you want reading the reviews of other bloggers for the week and adding to your wishlist of books to read.

Dealing With Dragons by Patricia Wrede

Dealing with Dragons is Book One of the Enchanted Forest Chronicles, and I’m eagerly anticipating my reading of the remaining four books in the series. That’s a pretty high recommendation right there.

Cimorene is a princess in the kingdom of Linderwall, “a very prosperous and pleasant place.” Her six older sisters find being a princess quite a satisfactory lot in life, but Cimorene hates “princess stuff” and wants to learn fencing, Latin, magic, cooking, and economics, even though such pursuits just aren’t proper for a princess.
So Cimorene does the best she can with the hand she’s been dealt and runs away to volunteer as a dragon’s captive princess. The dragon she finds to take her on, Kazul, is a bit unorthodox herself, and the two renegades get along swimmingly until the world intrudes in the form of meddling wizards, rescuing knights, and other discontented captive princesses. But whether its finding the ingredients for a fireproofing spell or serving up some cherries jubilee for her dragon’s dessert, the strong-minded (same say stubborn as a pig) Cimorene is up to the task.

The humor in this book reminded me of The Princess Bride for some reason, sort of wry and unexpected. Cimorene herself is an unexpected kind of princess, or rather a princess who defies conventional expectations. The dragons are suitably grumpy and and a bit volatile, hence the need for a fire-proofing spell, but generally likable enough if you don’t stir them up or cross them too much. Cimorene’s fellow princesses in captivity run the gamut from weeping to preening to friendly, and there is a helpful witch named Morwen who lives in the Enchanted Forest.

“Cimorene was surprised to hear that Kazul intended to take her along on the visit to Morwen, and she was not entirely sure she liked the idea. She had heard a great deal about the Enchanted Forest, and none of it was reassuring. People who traveled there were always getting changed into flowers or trees or animals or rocks, or doing something careless and having their heads turned backward, or being carried off by ogres or giants or trolls, or enchanted by witches or wicked fairies. It did not sound like a good place for a casual, pleasant visit.”

If that short excerpt appeals to your sense of humor and whimsy, you should check out the Enchanted Forest Chronicles. Since I’ve only read the first book, I’m not sure the rest of the series holds up to the high standard the first book sets, but I’m certainly hopeful. A friend recommended this series to me, and I’m certainly thankful for the tip and passing it on to my readers, young and old. After all, I’m 50+ and still finding children’s books that tickle my funny bone and enhance my imaginary reading world. I’m adding Cimorene and her Enchanted Forest world to the landscape of my own fantasy world, which includes Prydain, the Shire, Narnia, Oz, Neverland, Wonderland, Earthsea, Pern, Lilliput, Shangri-la, Slipper-on-the-Water in the Land Between the Mountains, and Aerwiar, just to name a few of the places I’ve visited time and time again. (Can you name the book or series for each fantasy world or country?)

The Big Book of Animals of the World by Ole Könnecke

This large board book groups pictures of animal by continent or part of the world, beginning with the Arctic and continuing on to North America (Canada), Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, South America, North America (Southwestern USA), and finally, under the ocean surface. The Last page spread has a map of the world with continents labeled so that children can see where the animals live that they have been viewing.

The pictures of the animals fall somewhere between cartoonish and realistic. There’s probably enough characteristic features that children might be able to recognize the various animals at the zoo or in their natural habitat, but the illustrations are still fairly small and stylized. And for some reason, perhaps to create interest, each two page spread has a picture or two of mice dressed in clothes and doing things like painting a picture or riding a camel or sunbathing. The only words in this book, originally published in German, are the English animal names printed under each animal picture and a few physical features that arenalso labeled, such as glacier, desert, savannah, and oddly enough, “chainsaw”, “garbage”, and “ant hill”?

Little children and even older animal lovers would probably enjoy this Richard Scarry-type word book, but I can tell you from experience that adults who are anything like me will tire quickly of repeating the names of the animals over and over again. With no narrative or story, the book is only of limited interest to the adult reader—which makes it a problematic book to have in the house. Usborne sells a lot of these word books, too, and I hated them when my children were little. My preschoolers, who weren’t reading for themselves, kept wanting me to “read” the books to them. But without a story, I was bored stiff.

Still The Big Book of Animals of the World might keep your children busy on a rainy day, or you might be a different kind of parent/teacher/reader than I am. Enter at your own risk.