Girl Fiction

Lark Rise to Candleford: Food for the Soul

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I invite you to enjoy this guest post by my dear friend and college roommate, Wendy Robinson of Virginia:

Lark Rise to Candleford is part memoir, part history, and a lovely tale of growing up in the English countryside. The volume contains three books: Lark Rise, Over to Candleford, and Candleford Green.

The story celebrates all the tiny details of nature, first through a child’s eyes and later through those of a young woman. The author, Flora Thompson, relished and observed all the little things in the hedgerows, and in the woods, and in village life before the turn of the century. She understood this village life on an intimate level, both the harshness of poverty, having lived alongside it, and the beauty of its industrious, self-sufficient inhabitants, and she wrote beautiful descriptions of the surrounding landscapes and farms that tie the book together like a thread.

It begins in a hamlet called Lark Rise where a young girl named Laura lives with her brother in the ‘end house’:

“Looking at the hamlet from a distance, one house would have been seen, a little apart, and turning its back on its neighbors, as though about to run away into the fields. It was a small grey stone cottage, with a thatched roof, a green-painted door and a plum tree trained up the wall to the eaves.”

Laura’s world moves from this isolated hamlet to the larger town of Candleford and eventually to a village called Candleford Green as we see her become a young woman through the three stories.

This was a time when men worked on the land, sang at their work and, for the most part, enjoyed their labor:

“There was a good deal of outdoor singing in those days. Workmen sang at their jobs; men with horses and carts sang on the road … even the doctor and parson hummed a tune between their teeth. People were poorer and had not the comforts, amusements, or knowledge we have to-day; but they were happier. Which seems to suggest that happiness depends more upon the state of mind — and body, perhaps — than upon circumstances and events.”

For modern day readers it is a beautiful picture of life right on the edge of the Industrial Revolution. On this side of it, we see all that we have lost. For an older reader like myself it is to be reminded of my own grandmother’s stories from her childhood only a few decades removed from Laura’s. I was surprised to see that many of the songs and games the children played were the same ones Grandma taught us. She also told similar tales of the wild outdoor freedom and responsibilities (and dangers) that children enjoyed – and today’s children may never know. I was blessed to grow up in a small semi-rural town where it was safe to explore the woods and meadows, and I love this book because it took me back to those memories. In these living history essays, you may even be able to trace shades of the old ways through your own family’s story.

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George Vicat Cole “A Surrey Countryside”

The book brims with the domestic details of everyday life and vivid descriptions of the hamlet homes:

“Old Sally’s was a long, low, thatched cottage with diamond-paned windows winking under the eaves and a rustic porch smothered in honeysuckle.” Her kitchen: “…with pots & pans and a big red crockery water vessel at one end, and potatoes in sacks and peas and beans spread out to dry at the other. The apple crop was stored on racks suspended beneath the ceiling and bunches of herbs dangled below”

“Inside Freddy Ashley’s home all was peace and quiet and spotless purity. The walls were freshly whitewashed, the table and board floor were scrubbed to a pale straw colour… Freddy was helping his mother make biscuits, cutting the pastry she had rolled into shapes with a little tin cutter. Their two faces, both so plain and yet so pleasant, were close together above the pasteboard, and their two voices as they bade Laura come in and sit by the fire sounded like angels’ voices after the tumult outside. It was a brief glimpse into a different world from the one she was accustomed to, but the picture remained with her as something quiet and pure and lovely. She thought that the home at Nazareth must have been something like Freddy’s.”

The author’s descriptions of their vegetable and flower gardens are also charming and poignant:

“The garden was a large one … Nearer the cottage were fruit trees, then the yew hedge, close and solid as a wall, which sheltered the beehives and enclosed the flower garden, Sally had such flowers and all of them sweet-scented! It seemed as though all the roses in Lark Rise had gathered together in that one garden.”

“As well as their flower garden, the women cultivated a herb corner, stocked with thyme and parsley, and sage for cooking, rosemary to flavor the home-made lard, lavender to scent the best clothes…”

While the first book, Lark Rise, is full of images of everyday life, the second book, Over to Candleford, depicts how Laura’s world opens up when she begins to spend her summer holidays with her cousins in a neighboring town, eight miles away. The final book, Candleford Green, sees Laura off to her new life as an assistant in a village Post Office.

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first published in 1939

But Laura never loses her love for her humble upbringing or her heart for nature; she moves out into the world with youthful hope, never forgetting what it was to have her shoes ‘powdered yellow with buttercup pollen’, to see the copses full of bluebells and the water-meadows with cowslips or the warm-hearted faces of the people she knew. She carries the picture with her and is able to call up at will the beauty maybe only she recognized there.

Read it slowly, outside in the warm sunshine, where you can hear the wind in the trees and you may be able to catch a glimpse of it, too.

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Flora Thompson 1876-1947

“ Flora Thompson’s Lark Rise to Candleford is a much-loved classic that has been read in various ways. For some it is an artless childhood memoir set in an Oxfordshire village in the 1880s. For others it is a lament for England’s peasantry, destroyed by mechanisation and modern farming. Richard Mabey’s expert, exploratory book sees it, rather, as a sophisticated work of fiction, part-fact, part-imagined, that was the crowning achievement of a self-taught working-class woman who transformed herself, by sheer determination, into a successful author. (“Dreams of the Good Life: The Life of Flora Thompson and the Creation of Lark Rise to Candleford by Richard Maybe”,  review  by John Carey, The Sunday Times, London, UK, February 23, 2014)

 

Categories: British novels, Classics, Girl Fiction, Historical Fiction, Inspiration | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Witch of Blackbird Pond – Historical fiction for young and old

witch of blackbird pond“No, writing is not lonely. It is a profession crowded with life and sound and color. I feel privileged to have had a share in it.” —Elizabeth George Speare

Elizabeth George Speare was born in Melrose, Massachusetts, on November 21, 1908 and lived all her life in New England. She described her early writing days and the development of her first novel, The Witch of Blackbird Pond (the 1959 Newbery Award winner):

I turned naturally to the things which had filled my days and thoughts and began to write magazine articles about family living. Then one day I stumbled on a true story from New England history with a character who seemed to me an ideal heroine. Though I had my first historical novel almost by accident it soon proved to be an absorbing hobby.” Elizabeth George Speare (1908-1994)

The result was a deeply layered reading experience with a vivid heroine, Kit Tyler, who is imperfect and endearing. In1687, Kit, an orphan, loses both home and guardian when her grandfather dies and his estate on the Caribbean island of Barbados defaults to his creditors. She must sail to Connecticut colony to live with her Aunt Rachel who has married a staunch Puritan, Matthew Wood.

On the voyage up the Atlantic seaboard, Kit makes friends with the sea captain’s son, Nat Eaton, as well as a serious young minister, John Holbrook, also heading for the same town. Later, William Ashby, son of the richest man in town becomes a suitor approved by Kit’s Uncle Matthew.

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I remember thoroughly enjoying the romance woven into the tale when I first read the novel as a young teen. Recently, when I read the book to my own daughters, I found myself using the story and its characters to give them a life lesson on finding a compatible marriage partner.

Despite the kindness of her relatives, willful, spoiled, lonesome Kit cannot seem to adjust to Puritan life and suffers greatly. She finds solace in the meadows outside the town, and soon meets Hannah, an old Quaker woman who has been ostracized for her different beliefs and lives a serene and misunderstood life far from the town and surrounding farms.

“Tis a strange thing, that the only friends I have I found in the same way, lying flat in the meadows, crying as if their hearts would break.” (Hannah)

While their friendship brings Kit much joy, it also later leads to peril as Kit is accused of witchcraft.

The Witch of Blackbird Pond is not a historical lesson on 17th century witch hunts disguised as fiction. The setting and time period are well researched, but the complex plot and the characters’ growth brings this young adult novel to life and earns it my highest rating and recommendation for children 10 and older and adults who either missed it in their youth or want to re-read it.

Other young adult fiction titles by Elizabeth George Speare:

The Bronze Bow

The Sign of the Beaver

Calico Captive

Categories: Children's Books, Classics, Girl Fiction, Historical Fiction, Romantic Fiction, Uncategorized, young adult fiction | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Plan Ahead for Summer Reading

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s almost summertime and I am pushing my “read more” agenda again! Here are some specific ideas for getting more from your reading this summer:

1) Read more – set higher personal reading goals! Summer reading is a special experience because is often takes place out of doors, on a beach or a porch swing. We can allow ourselves a large allocation of time to read during this season because our routine is changing as we welcome our children home from school and make vacation plans.

My goal: Read a minimum of an hour a day June -August.

2) Connect with others in your reading! Reading is not a solitary happening, but a satisfying conduit for building common experiences. Use your inner circle’s reading recommendations – children, spouses, parents, librarians, and friends. Target your children’s favorite book and watch their pleasure as you become familiar with the plots and characters they love.

My goal: Read The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg

See! A boy is reading in this candid photo.

See! A boy is reading in this candid photo.

3) Stretch your mental muscles! All have the capacity to enjoy a classic book. Although there is no harm in seeking a “light” read; the mental challenge in reading classic literature propels you into new depths — past the shallow water of superficial plots and stereotypical characters.

My goal: Read The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde

4) Re-read a childhood favorite! Go down memory lane and enjoy that classic children’s book again. Perhaps a family member might join you in this endeavor, but even when you read something independently, you can still take time to share excerpts that you felt most impacted by; whether it be humorous, serious, or touching.

My goal: Read Winnie-The-Pooh by A.A. Milne.4cd2e-the_sweetness_at_the_bottom_of_the_pie

5) Listen to an audio version of a book! On a family car trip or even during your mundane work commute, pop in an audio book and enjoy a good story as the miles roll by.  As a side effect, if your children are listening too, audio versions of books allow them to participate and experience literature above their own reading level.

My goal: Listen to the fourth book in the Flavia de Luce mystery series, I am Half-Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley (Book #1 is The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie – all the books are narrated splendidly by Jayne Entwhistle)

6) Be a good reading example to others! Maybe this summer is the time to read purely for enjoyment. Others watch what you do more than what you say, so if you especially want your spouse or children to pick up a book in their spare time, – to “read for pleasure” – as the phrase goes, then you must do the same.  Show them by example that reading isn’t always work!

My goal: to put up my feet in the daytime and read when the chores are not yet done.

7) Hit the library! Make use of your tax dollars and browse the local library for good ideas and free books to borrow. Library summer reading programs for kids and adults help direct our goals to increase reading with their prizes and recognition.

My goal: Sign us all up for the Dauphin County Library summer reading program on June 1st.

da69a-girl-reading1So, enjoy some special reading adventures this summer and please tell me about them!

Categories: Autobiography, Biography, British novels, Chick lit, Children's Books, Christian Fiction, Classics, Fantasy, Girl Fiction, Historical Fiction, Humorous, Inspiration, Mystery, Read Aloud, Romantic Fiction, Uncategorized, young adult fiction | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Beatrix Potter: The Tale of Peter Rabbit … and His Many Friends

I think I must have English vocabulary on my mind since my children are in the SAT taking years. We have many resources to augment our own vocabularies and those of our kids. One such treasure trove is the work of Beatrix Potter. Over one hundred years ago, an English gentlewoman named Beatrix Potter pioneered in the field of children’s literature as both an artist and storyteller.  Miss Potter brought animal characters to life with exquisitely detailed watercolor illustrations that gave them unique anthropomorphic personalities and quaint, creative little outfits. Her stories pulse with gentle humor, vivid word choices, and complex plots, all of which are elements of children’s literature that we still need to treasure and emulate today.

Our children and children’s children will benefit from each tale with its moral lesson and rich English vocabulary. I chose my five favorites and furnish an illustration, quote, and moral lesson for each.

#1 The Tale of Peter Rabbit (published by Frederick Warne in 1902) – Peter disobeys his mother and ventures into Mr. McGregor’s garden to filch vegetables. The suspenseful chase through the garden patch is designed to strike terror into the heart of the child reader, but the intensity is mellowed by the help Peter receives from other animals, as well as his eventual escape.

Beatrix Potter #1 “Peter gave himself up for lost, and shed big tears; but his sobs were overheard by some sparrows, who flew to him in great excitement, and implored him to exert himself.”

Implore (v.): to make a very serious or emotional request to someone

Moral lesson: Listen to those wiser than we are about danger. Disobedience has consequences.

#2 The Tale of Jeremy Fisher (1906) – Jeremy Fisher the frog faces danger after he punts out on his lily pad boat to fish in his pond for minnows to offer to his dinner guests. A predatory trout swallows him whole but spits him out again after tasting his macintosh.

“And while Mr. Jeremy sat disconsolately on the edge of his boat – sucking his sore fingers and peering down into the water – a much worse thing happened; a really frightful thing it would have been, if Mr. Jeremy had not being wearing a macintosh!”

Disconsolately (adv.): dejectedly or in a downcast manner Beatrix Potter #2

Moral lesson: Dangers lurk, but we are often spared. Be careful when taking risks, think things through, and be grateful for the safety of home.

#3  The Tale of Mrs. Tittlemouse (1910) – Mrs. Tittlemouse keeps an exceptionally tidy house as a result of her diligent, slightly obsessive effort. Her cleaning day is disrupted by several uninvited guests who dirty her house and cause her distress. After she shoos them out, the little mouse creates an environment in which to offer hospitality on her own terms, treating even her most impolite intruder with kindness.

“Mrs. Tittlemouse was a most terribly tidy particular little mouse, always sweeping and dusting the soft sandy floors.”

Particular (adj.): having very definite opinions about what is good or acceptable Moral lesson: Having boundaries in one’s personal space and with belongings is very important, yet one can set boundaries without being harsh or unkind.

Beatrix Potter #3 #4 The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck (1908) – Jemima Puddle duck is very naive and foolishly trusts the “foxy gentleman” who offers to help her achieve her heart’s desire to lay and hatch her own eggs. (The farmer keeps taking them away.)  Jemima even allows the gentlemen with the whiskers to arrange a duck feather bed in his shed as her nest.

“He led the way to a very retired, dismal-looking house amongst the fox-gloves.”

Retired (adj.): secluded

“Jemima Puddle-duck was a simpleton: not even the mention of sage and onions made her suspicious.”

Simpleton (n.): a person lacking in common sense Moral lesson: Choose carefully who to trust and pay attention to warning signs of untrustworthiness in the behavior of others.Beatrix Potter #5

#5 The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies (1909) – Peter Rabbit’s cousin, Benjamin Bunny, grows into an irresponsible adult and starts a large family he cannot support.  Benjamin takes his hungry children to Mr. McGregor’s rubbish heap to eat a charity meal of old vegetables.  After the father and children fall asleep, Mr. McGregor discovers them and captures them to give to his wife as the ingredients for a rabbit pie. With the help of Mrs. Tittlemouse, they are rescued.

“They had a large family, and they were very improvident and cheerful.”

Improvident (adj.): not providing or saving for the future : not wise or sensible regarding money

“The little rabbits smiled sweetly in their sleep under the shower of grass; they did not awake because the lettuces had been so soporific.”

Soporific (adj.): causing or tending to cause sleep

Moral lesson: Being sensible about money and planning for the future have great value because irresponsibility has clear negative consequences. However, we often have second chances and the help of others even after we have made poor choices. Beatrix Potter #4

Did you receive an education from author Beatrix Potter in both imagination and English turns of phrase? I contend they are not out-dated, even though they may be old-fashioned. Let’s enjoy these timeless tales and pass them on to the next generation. I welcome your comments about your favorite Beatrix Potter stories and the lessons you see embedded in them.

I recently discovered Apply Dapply’s Nursery Rhymes and Cecily Parsley’s Nursery Rhymes, two little volumes of charming poems.

Movie Moment: I enjoyed the 2006 film, Miss Potter (PG), starring Renée Zellweger and Ewan McGregor about the author’s personal and professional life. Her love of the Lake District in England led to land conservation efforts that have preserved thousands of acres. All of Beatrix Potter’s cherished animal friends still have their holes, stream banks, forests, and meadows to inhabit.

Categories: Classics, Girl Fiction, Humorous, Inspiration, Read Aloud | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Divergent by Veronica Roth– Pineneedles Goes Popular

Veronica Roth’s first published novel Divergent (publication 2011) hit the young adult fiction world with a great splash. Following it are two more novels in the trilogy: Insurgent and Allegiant. I have only read Divergent, so I beg my readers to refrain from imbedding “spoilers” about the plot line or fate of the characters in your comments.

Divergent is about a young woman named Beatrice Prior (“Tris”) who lives in a futuristic Chicago that is divided in to five factions called Dauntless, Abnegation, Erudite, Amity, and Candor. Each faction is dedicated to cultivating a particular virtue in its members: bravery (Dauntless), selflessness (Abnegation), intelligence (Erudite), compassion (Amity), and honesty (Candor). Tris grew up in Abnegation, where she has always felt stifled, but at the age of sixteen, she will have the opportunity to choose which faction she wants to belong to for the rest of her life –but if she leaves Abnegation, she’ll also have to leave her family, and there’s no going back.” Veronica Roth, www.veronicarothbooks.com

Divergent

The dystopian world created by Roth features a re-organized government in war-ravaged Chicago that works tirelessly to keep order, but allows for little free will and the protagonist, Tris, needs more and is more than boxed in conformity. As the tale unfolds, her divergence shakes the entire foundation of this skewed society.

Tris’s faction trainer and love interest, Tobias “(Four”), explains his epiphany about the flaw in the Faction system: “’I think we’ve made a mistake,’ he says softly. ‘We’ve all started to put down the virtues of the other factions in the process of bolstering our own. I don’t want to do that. I want to be brave, and selfless, and smart, and kind, and honest.’ He clears his throat. ‘I continually struggle with kindness.’” (Divergent, p. 405)

Numerous other themes run through this young adult series that I look forward to processing, including the questions: what is our core identity? how do we obtain the freedom to grow in it?

It looks like Roth got ahead of herself while studying for her creative writing degree at Northwestern University as her author bio reads: “while she was a student she often chose to work on the story that would become Divergent instead of doing her homework”. This quirky comment inspires me as an author to write creatively in the midst of other responsibilities.

Roth continues to pour forth stories set in her futuristic world, told from the perspective of Tobias: Free Four, The Transfer, The Initiate, The Son, and The Traitor.

Also available for Divergent fans is the movie of the same name released in March 2014 and starring Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Ashley Judd, Ansel Elgort and a stunning cast of excellent actors and actresses. I was one of the “see the movie first” fans, and then played catch up by reading the novel.

divergent moviehttp://www.imdb.com/title/tt1840309/?ref_=ttfc_fc_tt

As an endnote, I would like to promote the value of cultural literacy, different from literacy in general, that allows us to interact knowledgeably with others in the broader world around us. Although I have parameters regarding what I expose myself to in popular movies, media and books, many offerings from these sources excel in describing what is happening in the minds and hearts of our fellow world citizens and give me the means of connecting with people of different ages and beliefs.

Please note: unlike other books I have recommended, this novel has an element of sensuality as the “chemistry” between the main characters is described in several scenes.

 

Categories: Chick lit, Fantasy, Girl Fiction, young adult fiction | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

The Newbery Medal – Creative Children’s Literature

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In 1922, the Newbery Award became the first children’s book award in the world.  Named for 18th-century English bookseller John Newbery, the award fulfills the following purpose: “to encourage original creative work in the field of books for children. To emphasize to the public that contributions to literature for children deserve similar recognition to poetry, plays, or novels.”

A valuable aspect of the award is the honor it gives librarians, recognizing their life work to serve children’s reading interests. The panel of judges is made up of children’s librarians from pubic and private schools (members of the American Library Association). They choose the most distinguished American children’s book published the previous year. Although only a single book wins each year, several runners-up, listed as “Newberry Honor Books”, receive high marks and embossed seals on their covers as well.

The focus of the award – “original and creative work” – highlights two values I personally esteem in literature.   Writers and book publishers inundate children with copycat stories that get churned out in an attempt to follow the popularity flow. Movie producers often pursue the same “follow the leader” strategy to insure high box office sales in the film medium. In contrast, the Newbery Medal offers originality.

The first winner of the Newbery Medal was a history book, The Story of Mankind by Hendrik Willem van Loon. Next up was the whimsical fantasy,The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting that won in 1923. Two stories which are more current and accessible due to recent book-to-movie efforts are the 1999 Winner: Holes by Louis Sachar and the 2004 Winner: The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread by Kate DiCamillo.

I recently re-read the 1972 Newbery winner, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIHM by Robert C. O’Brien. This fantasy tale brings the reader into the lives of lab rats who escape their scientist captors and seek to establish their own society, one built upon self-reliance. The central tenet of their Great “Plan” is to live without stealing, unlike their rat ancestors.Mrs. Frisby

Mild-mannered Mrs. Frisby, the widow of lab mouse, Jonathan Frisby, steers her difficult course by the compass of familial love and finds unlikely allies in the rats of NIHM.

Mr. O’Brien wove a fantasy story that charms more than it scares the young reader. The author died only a few years after the publication of Mrs. Frisby, which makes me wonder what more he would have written given the opportunity. The ending of the book left me with several questions: What happened to the rats of NIMH; did they make a success of their new home in Thorn Valley? Did the Frisby mouse children grow up to do great exploits like their heroic father?

As I researched the Newbery Award for this blog post, I read the list of 92 winners out loud to my teen daughters and was chagrined to find that they only recognized 10% of the books on the list. I myself have missed out on numerous titles since I only read the Newbery books that were published when I was a child and then later those winners promoted on homeschool curriculum book lists.

Better get cracking!

Check out link to the Newbery list and send me a comment with your favorite winner! I would like to send out a prize – my first ever on pineneedlesandpapertrails- to the reader with the most Newbery titles read, so shoot me a total (honor system).

Update:  Winner Winner Chicken Dinner to blogger Susan Lea  of http://mimiswardrobe.wordpress.com who has read 76 of these titles!  Wow! Here is her response to this contest:  “I have read (or at least have them in our kids’ library) 76 of them. I noticed that there were several winners for Laura Ingalls Wilder, Susan Cook, and Madeline L’Engle. All of their books are favorites of mine, but my very favorite from that list has to be Forgotten Daughter by Caroline Snedeker. I imagine it’s one of the least-known (and hard to find), but I fell in love with it as a high school student, and my copy is highly-prized and will never be lent out! ”

http://www.ala.org/alsc/awardsgrants/bookmedia/newberymedal/newberyhonors/newberymedal

http://ww.ala.org/alsc/awardsgrants/bookmedia/newberymedal/newberymedal

Categories: Children's Books, Classics, Fantasy, Girl Fiction, Historical Fiction, Humorous, Inspiration, Read Aloud, Uncategorized, young adult fiction | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

True Romance: “Tales of London”

I avoid romance novels, for the most part, because they disappoint me.  They are too shallow, too sexy, or too predictable, but that magnetic pull toward romantic stories still exerts its influence on me no matter how disgruntled I become, and now I can say I have found an author who writes this type of fiction well.

Lawana Blackwell sets her “Tales of London” novels in late 19th century England, and follows multiple characters over an extended period of time: The Maiden of Mayfair (2001), Catherine’s Heart (2002), and Leading Lady (2004) published by Bethany House.

I read the novels in order and accepted each chronological jump forward, becoming emotionally engaged with the new characters in each subsequent book while enjoying the cameo appearances of earlier protagonists.  What helped me track with the changes in time and character was the fact that Mrs. Blackwell maintains continuity with the same London setting and extended family.

Also, I found the stories satisfying in their complexity and length (each novel weighs in at over four hundred pages).  Plots go far beyond the simplistic “boy meets girl, boy falls for girl, boy marries girl”.  (Oh, did I mention? There are no sex scenes – hurrah!) In contrast, characters live within their communities and pursue various life choices.  Issues of personal identity, vocation and calling, emotional wholeness, family bonds, and childrearing add richness to the romantic story lines.

In addition, Mrs. Blackwell expertly weaves cautionary tales into her novels that I didn’t find too heavy-handed. Stalking, obsessive love, and emotional neediness are themes that should be addressed when developing stories around relationships. I even found myself empathizing with certain missteps made by characters that paralleled my own relationship errors.

I found an example of this depth of insight into love relationships in Catherine’s Heart, the second in the series. The leading man breaks two very important factors in “true love”: !) he is physically attracted to his fiancee, but then finds himself drawn to another woman who crosses his path and doesn’t resist that temptation. 2) this “Mr. Wrong” doesn’t embrace the core life interests of his lady love, and doesn’t share a mutual life purpose or “mission” with her.

On the surface, we may enjoy reading about or watching the intense experience of first attraction and falling in love, but, in my opinion, what is more satisfying is seeing love unfold with a worthy man who truly loves a deserving woman.  He doesn’t even need to be “indecently gorgeous”, to borrow Daphne de Luce’s description from The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag.  But we know he must be good, strong, protective, and kind which goes for the leading lady in romantic stories, too.)romance novels

Romantic comedies and “chick lit” will always be with us because the human heart longs for stories that show the fulfillment of our deepest desire that two people will find and value each other and experience a lasting love. Lawana Blackwell gives that to us in the context of historical fiction set in 1800s England, but still appealing to the modern woman.

An additional note about the author: Lawana Blackwell came late to fiction writing, after years of teaching and community service.  I find her story inspiring, probably because, I, too, am a middle-aged woman who has yet to achieve my writing dreams. Her author profile on http://www.cbd.com chronicles the start of her writing career: “Life begins at 40—or so they say. Such was the case for the literary life of Lawana Blackwell. Writing had been a dream, simmering like a big pot of stew on the back burner of her existence for years. As she faced the milestone of her 40th birthday, she began asking herself when “one day” would finally arrive. Suddenly it became clear to her that she had been procrastinating all that time out of fear of failure.”

http://mayrobinson.wordpress.com/2012/07/01/book-review-of-the-maiden-of-mayfair-by-lawana-blackwell-8/#respond

Categories: Chick lit, Girl Fiction, Historical Fiction, Inspiration, Romantic Fiction | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Being on the Receiving End: The Goose Girl

If you are new to this blog or are a returning reader, my purpose should be clear – to recommend good books that will enrich your life. But I want to demonstrate to you that I am also a receiver of recommendations, and inspire you to continue your quest to hear from others.

Isn’t it true that each one of us, no matter our age or experience, possesses limited understanding of good reading material and finite resources for discovering it? I believe everyone can benefit from the process of “cross-pollination” in our reading choices. (cross-pollination: “the transfer of pollen from one flower to the stigma of another.” Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

Sometimes others are simply ahead of us, having heard about a wonderful book from another person or media outlet. Their “ear to the ground” hears of it first, or we may never have access to the information they do. Brat Farrar, by Josephine Tey, was a British mystery recommended to me by Margaret Turner, an 80-year-old woman I helped as a Red Cross volunteer when she became legally blind. She gave me her tattered copy when I moved away.

Other times, the different tastes of our friends or relatives bring us into contact with new experiences. My father, an avid reader, was a fan of western novels. I finally got over my “reader’s block” recently and tried a Louis L’Amour novel, Sackett, and enjoyed it immensely.

I especially cherish the way my children, and other younger readers, pollinate my reading. Luke, my 19-year old son, raised the bar of my reading by his affinity for C. S. Lewis’ essays and non-fiction (his favorites: Mere Christianity and The World’s Last Night). I need to be stretched past my beloved Narnia Chronicles to read “headier stuff”.

My daughter, Rachel (age 15), read The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale this summer. I bought a copy of it several years ago for my girls on the advice of a friend whose teen daughter listed it as one of her top five novels. (Thanks, Sarah Reyes).

Rachel took off with this book and then blazed through the rest of the novels in Shannon Hale’s Books of Bayern series. (The titles in order of publication: The Goose Girl, Enna Burning, River Secrets, and Forest Born.)

“Hey Mom! You HAVE to read this!” I genuinely attempt to prioritize my kids’ book recommendations; although my “to read” queue is fairly long. When Rachel saw that I had The Goose Girl in my hands at bedtime with a telltale bookmark peaking from the pages, her voice rose several octaves: “What?! You started reading it and didn’t TELL me!” Her accusation whipped across my bedroom and figuratively shook me by the shoulders. I recollected how much I love to hear feedback from a friend who is reading the book I recommended and realized I had broken the cardinal rule of book sharing!

Here is Rachel’s recommendation for The Goose Girl in her own words: “All teenage girls should read this book. Its plot is intriguing, and mystery is unraveled in every page. The main character is Ani, the sixteen-year-old crown princess. She starts off as a quiet girl who is being trained to become Queen, however she hates everything involving her role as future head of the kingdom. Only when she is out of doors and conversing with, yes I know it sounds crazy, birds does Ani ever feel herself. Through the story, surprising events and incredible plot twists make this book my top read. This queen-to-be goes through life-threatening situations and starts to find out who she really is.

Ani is a princess who doesn’t wait to step into her destiny by being rescued by a ‘knight in shining armor’, but she doesn’t have the ‘I don’t need anybody’s help, I have to do this by myself!’ attitude either, which seems popular in modern stories. Like the Beatles recommend, she’s going to ‘get by with a little help from her friends’. Oh, and a little romance doesn’t take away from the story either…”

The Goose Girl just celebrated its 10-year anniversary. Author Shannon Hale posted on her blog: http://oinks.squeetus.com/2013/05/ten-years-man.html

So dear reader, let us share books so that reading is not a solitary happening, but a satisfying conduit for building common experiences. Our ideal “book clubs” can consist of the people in our inner relational circle – children, spouses, parents, librarians, and friends. We can gain connectedness and bridge generational barriers, which is such a boon in our culture that touts same age and same generation interaction as the be-all and end-all.

Please keep sending me your wonderful ideas. Mrs. Mike was one such recommendation – a spin-off from a blog post on our most memorable books from childhood.

My questions to you: What have others recommended to you that enriched your inner world? If you are 25 years old or younger, what would you tell us older folks to read?

Note to self: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan has been sitting on my “to read” bedside stack too long. Get to it, or Hannah (age 14) will be coming after me.

Categories: Fantasy, Girl Fiction, Uncategorized, young adult fiction | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

I Want To Be Like Mrs. Mike

“If Katherine Mary Flannigan who passed away years ago knew Mrs. Mike continues to have readers in the twenty-first century how amazed and pleased she would be.”
(excerpted from the Introduction of Mrs. Mike, 2002 Berkley Publishing Group)

I have a new heroine. She lived over a hundred years ago and bravely traveled from cultured turn-of-the-century Boston to the frontier town of Calgary, Alberta at the tender age of sixteen in order to recover from pleurisy. Katherine Mary O’Fallon not only adjusted to life on the edge of civilization, she pushed deeper into the Canadian wilderness wrapped in blankets on a dogsled led by her new husband, Canadian Mounted Police sergeant Mike Flannigan.

Mrs. Mike, first published in 1947 after interviews with the main character and extensive research, provides some wonderful romantic stomach flutters and broad grins at the couple’s courtship and early married life. But like the territorial movement deeper into the unknown, the story dives deep and quick into the harsh realities of wilderness life in the early 1900’s. The authors, Benedict and Nancy Freedman, did not spare the reader. Somehow I managed to survive this story without a completely shattered heart.

Mounties were the ultimate multi-taskers filling the offices of policeman, priest, and doctor in the remote outposts of the Canadian wilderness. The Flannigans are called on again and again to succor the dying, bind up those wounded by wild animals, and face their own tragedies. Kathy Flannigan shows the reader the miracle of starting over while keeping her heart open to love and faith. Like Job of the Bible, she doesn’t curse God and die. Not all of the book’s characters manage this which underscores the miracle of Kathy’s life.

I confess that I have spent much of my suburban life trying to avoid pain and whining at any adversity. The life of Kathy Flannigan humbles me, as does the story of the authors who faced illness and setbacks of their own. Journalist Peggy Orenstein, writes of the Freedmans in her article entitled “The Story of My Life”: “As children of the Great Depression, they never much trusted wealth or stability.” (O Magazine, December 2007). Orenstein read the novel to her husband and then asked him what he had taken away from the book. “That’s easy”, he said, with a half smile “Life is hard. But love is strong.” http://www.oprah.com/omagazine/Mrs-Mike-Changed-My-Life

Photo Credit: Travis Roberts

Photo Credit: Travis Roberts


We still have much to survive today. While childhood diseases such as small pox or diphtheria are prevented by modern-day vaccination, American lives are still at risk due to cancer, natural disasters, traffic accidents, addiction, mental illness, and suicide. Are we overcomers who can go on – seeing the light at the end of our tunnels and trusting that God is good?

“Originally published in 1947, Mrs. Mike was a main selection of the Literary Guild, serialized in the Atlantic Monthly, condensed in Reader’s Digest, appeared on the New York Times bestseller list, and translated into twenty-seven languages.” (Introduction, p. xxvi, Mrs. Mike, published 2002 by Berkely Trade)

Kathy’s true story is the basis for the novel which means some events were fictionalized by the authors. Not much research is available on the real life characters of Katherine and Mike Flannigan; although accounts state Sergeant Mike Flannigan died of a ruptured appendix in 1944. Kathy remarried and died in 1954 in Calgary, Alberta. Authors Benedict and Nancy Freedman passed away within the past three years.

I hope I whetted your appetite to read this lyrical, poignant novel for the first-time or over again to be inspired to truly live and love.

Other Notes:
Pleurisy is an inflammation of the pleural membrane which surrounds the lungs and results in symptoms of chest pain when inhaling or exhaling, shortness of breath, cough and fever.

Lesser Slave Lake is located in the current-day province of British Columbia, Canada

Categories: Classics, Girl Fiction, Historical Fiction, Inspiration, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Books for Girls: Timeless Virtues

Pineneedlesandpapertrails

One of my personal tests to determine whether a book heroine is “timeless” is if you, as a reader, remember her name, not just what she did.

For some of our most beloved female protagonists we even know the last name: Sara Crewe, Kit Tyler, Christy Huddleston, Jo March,  Anne Shirley, Laura Ingalls, Lucy Pevensie. Mary Lennox, Maria Merryweather, Fern Arable and Charlotte the Spider.  I feel as if I know these characters. 

As my daughter Rachel says, “They are like real people that I have in my cell phone contact list.  I feel as if I could call them up to ask them for advice”.

Fiery-tempered, imaginative Anne  (“with an e”) of Anne of Green Gables finds what her hearts longs for -belonging in her adopted family and community.  She wins the life-long friendship of Diana, whom she calls her “bosom friend”.  We watch Anne grow up and see…

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Categories: Chick lit, Classics, Girl Fiction, Inspiration, Read Aloud, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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