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The Family From One End Street by Eve Garnett

Posted by Sherry on 5/25/2017 in Children's Fiction, England, General |

Published in 1937, The Family From One End Street and Some of Their Adventures by author/illustrator Eve Garnett broke new ground by detailing the joys and sometimes misadventures of a large working class British family. “Mrs. Ruggles was a Washerwoman and her husband was a Dustman.” (A dustman for us Americans who don’t collect “dust” or rubbish is a garbage collector.) The Ruggles family consists of Rosie and Jo, the parents, and seven children: Lily Rose, Kate, the twins James and John, little Jo, Peg, and baby William. “The neighbors pities Jo and Rosie for having such a large family and called it ‘Victorian’; but the Dustman and his wife were proud of their numerous girls and boys, all-growing-up-fine-and-strong-one-behind-the-other-like-steps-in-a-ladder-and-able-to-wear-each-others-clothes-right-down-to-the-baby . . .”

From the beginning chapter that introduces the family and tells about how all the children were born and named to the concluding chapter in which the entire family takes a much-anticipated bank holiday in London, the story is a very British, very enjoyable look at a happy family. Tolstoy said that happy families are all alike, implying that they are not very interesting, but the Ruggleses are generally happy and fun to read about. The language is both British and somewhat dated, but an intelligent eleven year old should be able to puzzle it out, even an American child. And these are poor/lower class children of the 1930’s, loved but not hovered over, so they do things like stowaway on a boat or take a ride with a wealthy couple in a motorcar or try to help with the ironing—with disastrous results. Each child gets his or her own story or chapter in the book, vignettes that distinguish the children from one another and let readers follow along on their various and sundry adventures. The book would make a lovely read aloud, as long as the reader could do a proper British accent.

Speaking of British accents and the like, The Family From One End Street won the Carnegie Medal in 1937 for the children’s book of most outstanding literary quality published in the UK. It is an outstanding book, but its award as a sort of “book of the year” for British children in 1937 illustrates the problem with choosing the best books in the moment, before time and thoughtful appreciation and criticism have been brought to bear upon the staying power and literary quality of a given year’s crop of titles.

Also published in Britain in 1937? The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien.

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Journey Across the Hidden Islands by Sarah Beth Durst

Posted by Sherry on 5/24/2017 in 2017, Children's Fiction, Fantasy Fiction, General, Japan |

“‘Once, there were two princesses, Sisters. One trained to be a warrior, at the top of a mountain. She was never allowed to go home. The other trained to be the perfect princess. She was never allowed out of the palace. Until one day, when their father said they were ready . . .’
‘They weren’t ready,’ Ji-Lin admitted.
‘They weren’t,’ Seika agreed. ‘But they had to go, because they were needed. And their journey was more dangerous than anyone thought it would be.'”

In this middle grade fantasy with a hint of Japanese influence (no actual mention of Japan), the twin princesses Seika and Ji-Lin, heir and guardian respectively of the island kingdom of Himitsu, travel together on the ritual Emperor’s Journey to the volcanic mountain where Seika will meet with the dragon who keeps the hidden kingdom hidden with a protective magical barrier. Ji-Lin’s task, along with her winged lion Alejan, is to protect her sister, Seika, and help her to complete the journey. They must reach the the Shrine of the Dragon by Himit’s Day. The safety of the islands and their people depends on two twelve year old princesses and a strong, but immature, winged lion.

What a fantastic book—humorous, thrilling, and at times, even thoughtful. It’s a celebration of sisterhood as the twins test themselves and learn to depend on each other’s strengths and compensate for their weaknesses. There are koji, monsters of various sorts, to fight or avoid, and there are choices to be made, both moral and strategic. Seika, who depends on her mastery of the traditions and rituals of her people’s history to keep the world stable and safe, must learn that perfection in word and deed isn’t always possible and isn’t always what’s needed. Ji-Lin, who has been trained to fight and to protect, must learn that sometimes discretion is the better part of valor. Both girls, and indeed their father, the Emperor, and all of the people of the Hidden Islands of Himitsu, must grow to accept change and to make new traditions.

It’s not as complicated or indeed as literary as Grace Lin’s award winning novels Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, Starry River of the Sky, and When the Sea Turned to Silver, books to which Journey Across the Hidden Islands is sure to be compared. The books do share a common theme: that stories are important and powerful, especially the stories we tell ourselves and the stories we tell about ourselves. But as it turns out I’m more a fan of straightforward with a little bit of funny thrown in, so if you want a fantasy for ages nine to twelve with a hint of an Asian flavor, a solid plot, and good themes, I’d recommend this one.

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Hero of the Empire by Candice Millard

Posted by Sherry on 5/23/2017 in Biography/Memoir, General, Nonfiction, South Africa |

Hero of the Empire: The Boer War, a Daring Escape, and the Making of Winston Churchill by Candice Millard.

“I don’t like this fellow, but he’ll be Prime Minister of England one day.” ~Sir George White in reference to young Winston Churchill.

“Winston has spent the best years of his life composing his impromptu speeches.” ~ F.E. Smith.

“Winston is like a strong wire that, stretched, always springs back. He prospers under attack, enmity and disparagement . . . He lives on excitement.The more he scents frustration the more he has to fight for; the greater the obstacles, the greater the triumph.” ~John Black Atkins.

“I said to myself, ‘Toujours de l’audace!'” (Always more audacity). ~ Winston Churchill.

Audacious indeed, Churchill, like Teddy Roosevelt, the subject of another of Candice Millard’s narrative nonfiction histories, would have been a difficult man to befriend or to live with or to be married to. Although I have great deal of respect for both Churchill and Roosevelt, I like the distance that history and books give me. I suspect a close encounter with either man would have left me speechless or even angry or completely dumbfounded. Churchill may have gained some perspective and selflessness as he aged, but as a youth he seems to have been supremely self-centered and cocky.

But he was definitely a leader, even in his twenties during the Boer War in South Africa. Supposedly sent to the war zone as a journalist, Churchill almost immediately became entangled in combat, trying to find opportunities for heroism and acclaim. He did audacious and reckless things, and he got away without getting himself killed in the process. And he got the acclaim he wanted after he escaped from a Boer prisoner of war camp, almost by accident, but sustained by sheer persistence and “good luck”.

“The practice [of prayer] was comforting and the reasoning led nowhere. I therefore acted in accordance with my feelings without troubling to square such conduct with the conclusions of thought.” ~Winston Churchill, from South Africa during the Boer War.

According to the author, Churchill didn’t have much faith in God or religion or Christianity in particular, but when he was at the worst, darkest hour of his harrowing escape across South Africa, he could think of nothing to do except pray. It’s a sort of a foxhole religious awakening, and one doesn’t get the sense that Churchill took much spiritual growth or humility with him into the rest of his escape and subsequent life. But in the depths of the darkness of the 1930’s when no one would listen to him as he trumpeted the dangers of Nazism or in the darkest hours of World War II when none of the countries of the world were really standing alongside Britain against Hitler, maybe he remembered to pray, remembered that God was the one who rescued him during his South Africa escape journey. No one really knows. (I don’t believe in luck.)

After his escape from the Boers, Churchill could have sat on his laurels and drunk copious amounts of champagne, a drink of which he was extremely fond. However, he returned to to South Africa to fight and write about the war. After the Boer War was over, Churchill published two memoirs of the war, London to Ladysmith via Pretoria and Ian Hamilton’s March. His heroism and notoriety gained him a seat in Parliament, and the rest, as they say, is history.

This article gives a good overview of Churchill’s relationship and attitude to Christianity and God.
And here’s an interview at Bible Gateway with the joint authors of a book called God and Churchill.

Other books by Candice Millard:
Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President.
River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey.

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The Persian Pickle Club by Sandra Dallas

Posted by Sherry on 5/22/2017 in Adult Fiction, General, Historical fiction, Mysteries |

It’s the 1930’s, the depths of the Great Depression, and the farms of Harveyville, Kansas are drying up. No rain. No money. Very little work. And the crops are burning in the fields.

The Persian Pickle Club are a group of ladies who meet together to quilt. They work together, share quilt pieces, read together, gossip a little, and keep each other’s secrets. Twenty-something farm wife Queenie Bean is happy to welcome the newest member of the Persian Pickles, Rita Ritter, who has come to Harveyville with her husband, Tom. Tom is home from the city to work on the family farm, and his new wife is about Queenie’s age and a big city girl. So, Queen decides that she and Rita will be best friends.

As the story progresses, it turns into a murder mystery, and newcomer Rita is determined to double as detective and journalist, crack the murder case, and write it up for the near-by town’s newspaper. Rita and Tom both want to get out of Harveyville and back to the big city, while Queenie loves farm life, is content to let sleeping dogs lie as far as the murder is concerned, and just wants a friend and a little rain.

I’m not thinking that The Persian Pickle Club breaks any new ground in the genres of historical fiction or murder mysteries, but it’s a good solid read for quilters, cosy mystery fans, and readers who remember or want to experience a taste of the Depression era.

Sandra Dallas is the author of fifteen adult novels, two young reader novels, and ten nonfiction books. I read her children’s book Red Berries, White Clouds, Blue Sky in 2015, and I added another of her books to my TBR list, Prayers for Sale, from this recommendation at Small World Reads. I think I’d like to explore more of Ms. Dallas’s work. Anyone else have a book by Sandra Dallas to recommend?

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My Name Is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

Posted by Sherry on 5/20/2017 in General |

I didn’t get it. If that makes me a philistine or a person who can’t appreciate fine literature, so be it. I still didn’t really get it.

The narrator, Lucy Barton, tells the story of her life and her relationship with her mother in particular, by recounting the conversations that took place between her and her mother during a hospital stay in which the daughter, Lucy, contracts an undiagnosed illness and stays in the hospital for “almost nine weeks”. At the behest of Lucy’s husband, a strange character in his own right, Lucy’s mother comes from Illinois to New York City to stay with her in the hospital. The mother tells some stories, waves intermittently at Lucy, and remains constantly at hand and available for several days. They don’t touch much, maybe at all, and Lucy is not allowed to talk about her ow life, her husband, and her children to her mother whom she hasn’t seen in over ten years. Then, the mother leaves.

And that’s the whole 191 page story. Lucy says several times that she feels like a misfit, different. “I don’t know how others are,” she says. As Lucy listens to her mother’s stories and as she remembers her childhood, it comes out that Lucy’s father was physically, emotionally, and sexually(?) abusive, but Lucy’s mother ignored the abuse or maybe was subject to it, or part of it, or both, herself.

Lucy says that the book isn’t about her marriage, but she tells us a lot about her marriage and about her two daughters and about the dysfunction in her own adult family, probably a result of the dysfunction and abuse in her childhood. It’s a sad saga, but so disjointed that just when I was starting to feel compassion for Lucy and even for her mother, the narrative would veer off in some other direction to talk about Lucy’s writing life or the nurses in the hospital or something else seemingly inconsequential and irrelevant. A picture of how victims of abuse sometimes deflect and avoid when the emotion becomes too strong? Maybe, but I found it annoying and confusing.

I was planning to read Elizabeth Strout’s new book, Anything Is Possible, which is said to take place in the same midwestern Illinois town that Lucy hails from. However, since I didn’t “get” this book, I doubt I would like the companion short stories either.

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Saturday Review of Books: May 20, 2017

Posted by Sherry on 5/20/2017 in Saturday Reviews |

“Make it a rule never to give a child a book you would not read yourself.” ~George Bernard Shaw

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.

(Sorry, guys, it was late last night, and I was out all day today. Here’s the linky:)

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Downriver by Will Hobbs

Posted by Sherry on 5/19/2017 in Adventure thriller, General, Young Adult Fiction |

Theodore Roosevelt in 1903 on the Grand Canyon:
“I want you to do one thing in connection with it in your own interest and in the interests of the country . . . Leave it as it is. You cannot improve on it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it. What you can do is keep it for your children, your children’s children, and for all who come after you.”

I’ve never seen the Grand Canyon, but I can imagine it must be an exciting place, especially seen from a canoe deep inside the gorge. I can’t say I’m up for the trip anytime soon, but maybe in eternity when I have plenty of time to train and no fear of death.

In this YA book, eight teens, four girls and four guys, ditch their instructor in an outdoor education camp, steal his van and equipment, and drive to the Grand Canyon to paddle the rapids of the Colorado all the way through the canyon. Jessie is the narrator, angry with her dad for remarrying after her mother’s death. Troy is the wealthy, spoiled natural leader of the group, the one who talks them into their wild adventure and keeps them going once they start down the canyon. Rita is a street-smart New York Hispanic girl with a loud mouth and a gift for outdoor cooking. Heather is the one who is most likely to complain, give up, and go home. Star is from a tough background, formerly homeless, but with an ethereal quality that makes her perilously dependent on her superstitions and Tarot cards. Adam is the clown, always ready to diffuse the tension or sidetrack the conversation with a joke or a comedy routine. Pug, aka the Big Fella, is dumb, strong, and maybe dangerous; against the rules, he carries a knife. And Freddy, part Hopi and part Basque, is the best paddler and wilderness survivor of the bunch, but he’s a mystery, a man of few words, and the only one that Troy can’t figure out or dominate.

Of course, Jessie falls for the wrong guy, at first. It’s rather obvious from the outside, looking in, that Troy is a manipulative schemer. As the trip down the canyon progresses, the kids learn all about how much they can depend on one another, who’s smart and who’s not, and what they each have inside themselves. They don’t learn their own limitations nor do they really reap the consequences of their bad choices, but there’s a sequel, or a companion novel, River Thunder, and maybe that’s where these kids really grow up. Although I would never in my life have wanted to canoe anywhere calm and easy, much less in whitewater, I did enjoy reading about it. I’m on the lookout for a copy of Thunder River, to spend some more time with these flawed but compelling characters and see what happens to them next.

Just a note, probably because it was published in 1991, just before all the barriers came down, there is no bad language in the book, except indirectly referenced: “she added a string of New York’s best obscenities.” These are rebellious, delinquent kids, and probably their language would realistically reflect that. But I sure was glad I didn’t have to read a “string of obscenities.” I wish other authors would take note and leave out the particulars of nasty language, too.

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The Four Swans by Winston Graham

Posted by Sherry on 5/18/2017 in General |

“In the sixth book in the legendary Poldark saga, Ross is faced with a new battlefield, one involving the women whose lives are intertwined in his own.” The “four swans” are four women: Demelza Poldark, Ross Poldark’s rags-to-riches wife; Elizabeth Warleggan, Ross’s first love; Caroline Enys, the wife of Ross’s friend; and Morwenna Chynoweth Whitworth, the parson’s wife. Let’s take each of the four one at at time and see what’s up with them in this installment of the Poldark soap opera.

Demelza, perhaps for the purpose of plot tension and development, is acting like an idiot in this book. She has an admirer who writes poetry for her, and either the admiration or the poetry or both are enough to turn her head and make her all swoony, even though she knows she really loves her husband, Ross, the best. But, oh my, poetry and compliments and a beach encounter! It all seems out of character for sensible, loyal Demelza, more out of character than her attempted revenge-by-adultery in the fourth book, Warleggan. At least in that one, Demelza had a reason for her seductive behavior, not a good reason, but a reason. In this one, she’s just swayed by a lot of sweet talk and a sad story. She had better wake up and smell the coffee in the next book!

Elizabeth, is her usual wishy-washy self in this volume. She has become a better liar over the years, and in this book she pulls off a whopper and convinces husband George Warleggan that she has always been faithful, even before their marriage, never cared much for good old Ross’s smoldering passion, and has eyes only for George. he stakes are high since George suspects that Valentine, their son, may not actually be their son. I keep wondering what will happen if Valentine turns out to be the spitting image of Ross. Elizabeth and Ross manage, mostly, to keep their hands and lips off each other in this book, except for a brief kiss by the garden gate, which convinces Ross that he doesn’t really care for Elizabeth anymore. (Just when Demelza is “torn between two lovers, feeling like a fool.”)

Caroline Enys doesn’t do much in this book. She is perverse and witty when she does appear, and she and Doctor Enys manage to get married, get pregnant, and have a few marital adjustments to make. But the Enyses have a mainly supporting role in this book, and Caroline doesn’t get much screen time.

Morwenna Whitworth continues to have the worst life of the lot. She has a perverted husband, a scheming little sister, and a houseful of children to care for. And she’s still in love with Drake Carne, Demelza’s little brother, but she can’t do anything about that because she’s too busy dealing with her own depression and physical illness and her husband’s incessant demands and her younger sister’s traitorous schemes. With much drama, Morwenna manages to get the upper hand over her husband, the Reverend Whitworth, but her situation remains fraught with peril. Think if the Reverend Whitworth had the guts he would take a hatchet to the beautiful Morwenna, but he’s a wimp and a pervert. Morwenna’s storyline is disturbing, and some people may want to give up on the books when she starts to be the focus of one of the four strands of the plot.

However, there is a fifth part or set of characters in this novel, title notwithstanding, and of all the characters I like Samuel Carne and his love interest, Emma, the best. Sam is a true Christian, a Methodist lay preacher who is committed to the simplicity and power of the gospel. I like Sam a lot. If the author “messes up” Sam in subsequent novels, I really will quit reading. That’s not to say that Sam must be perfect, but he should remain faithful to Jesus and to his Methodist faith. Some people are authentically committed to Christ and his church. Emma, on the other hand, could afford to get converted, but I’m not sure she will. Missionary dating and conversion by romantic attraction were no more or less effective and real in the eighteenth century than they are nowadays. If you decide to follow Jesus just so that you can marry one of his disciples, you carry a lot of baggage into your marriage and into your spiritual life. Emma seems to know this intuitively, but can she and Sam both find a way to look to Jesus first and to each other second? It seems unlikely.

These books should be read in order. There are twelve novels in the series, so I’m halfway through. The next book, The Angry Tide, is set in the final years of the eighteenth century, and Ross Poldark begins his term as a Member of Parliament. The rebel enters the establishment. What could possibly go wrong?

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The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein

Posted by Sherry on 5/17/2017 in General, Mysteries, Young Adult Fiction |

Before Verity . . . there was Julie.

Billed as a prequel to the popular spy thriller Code Name Verity, The Pearl Thief, set in Scotland and featuring a fifteen year old Julie/Verity, is a coming of age exploration of gender, identity, and bisexuality encased in a murder mystery. Of those three elements—setting, theme, and genre—only two were at all appealing to me. All of the cross-dressing and lesbian awakening stuff which tried to make itself part of the overall theme of confronting prejudice and unkindness instead made me wish the mystery itself were more compelling so that I could skip over the same-sex and opposite-sex kisses and gropings and at least enjoy the plot.

I found it difficult to believe that Julie, an upper class young lady home for the summer from finishing school, could really do the things she did with no compunction or misgivings, no voices in her head screaming that the choices she was making were wrong. She seduces an older man, shares a steamy kiss with a saucy maid while Julie is disguised as a boy, and has an intimate interlude with another girlfriend, all without much inner doubt or moral reflection. There were hints of Julie’s confused sexuality in Code Name Verity, but the hints remained just that and were easily ignored or skipped over. In this one, with a much younger Julie, the intimations have magnified backwards and become blatant and irritating, distractions from a mystery about stolen pearls and attempted murder. However, the mystery isn’t that compelling either.

Anyway, there you have it. The story in this one is subordinate to the message: travelers (gypsies), the disabled and disfigured, and LGBT persons all have to deal with prejudice and misunderstanding, but it’s easier to explore your bisexual impulses because that’s a choice that can all be kept secret and mostly unacknowledged. It’s not a particularly appealing message.

I really liked Code Name Verity, appreciated Rose Under Fire, and enjoyed Black Dove White Raven, but I thought this latest novel by Wein was a dud.

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Saturday Review of Books: May 13, 2017

Posted by Sherry on 5/12/2017 in General, Saturday Reviews |

“Printers ink has been running a race against gun powder these many, many years. Ink is handicapped, in a way, because you can blow up a man with gun powder in half a second while it may take twenty years to blow him up with a book. But the gunpowder destroys itself along with its victim, while a book can keep on exploding for century.” ~The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley

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.

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