Romantic Fiction

Adventure on the High Seas: Horatio Hornblower saga

11334531-_uy200_Are you ready to enter the naval world of the Napoleonic Wars between England and France? Sea battles, duels of honor, consummate seamanship, and heroic deeds leap from the pages of C.S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower saga.

It is 1793 and 17-year-old Horatio Hornblower is an untried lowly midshipman in Her Majesty’s Navy. His first adventures at sea, in Mr. Midshipman Hornblower, quickly reveal his dauntless courage and lightning quick strategic thinking. In his eleven-volume saga, C.S. Forester develops this fascinating main character and reveals the complexity of French and British conflicts during the Napoleonic Wars. This complex yet compassionate character has endeared himself to many readers.

Written in the early part of the 20th century, how did C.S. Forester (1899-1966) reconstruct British naval life so realistically? The Library of Congress article on the author’s life offers an answer:

“In 1927, C.S. Forester purchased three volumes of The Naval Chronicle from 1790 to 1820. For the Chronicle, officers of the Royal Navy wrote articles on strategy, seamanship, gunnery, and other professional topics of interest to their colleagues. The Chronicle for those years covered the wars with Napoleon. Reading these volumes and traveling by freighter from California to Central America allowed the germination of the character Horatio Hornblower as a member of the Royal Navy in the late eighteenth century.

By the time Forester’s journey brought him home to England, the former medical student-turned-writer had plotted Beat to Quarters, and it was published in 1937. A Ship of the Line and Flying Colours were published soon after, and in 1939 all three appeared as Captain Horatio Hornblower. Forester’s interest in the Romantic period and the political and military maneuvers of the early 1800s continued, and the Hornblower saga was produced.

Subsequent volumes in the series were sequels to the original trilogy or filled in its gaps. The episodic quality of the novels is due partly to their having appeared serially in magazines, primarily the Saturday Evening Post.” https://www.loc.gov/nls/bibliographies/minibibs/horatio.html

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Reading historical novels set on the sea can be a challenge with so many unfamiliar, almost archaic, English words embedded in the text. However, it is possible to avoid referring to one’s dictionary when the reader’s “comprehending in context” skills are put to use. My 17-year-old daughter, Rachel, explained her ability to understand the first book’s language:

“Within the context it was like I was constantly learning the words, and it almost always made sense. I understood what the seaman was doing with the ship’s rope and which way the ship was moving. I loved this book because it was an unusual setting and the adventure was so delightful.”

In 1951, an original motion picture, Captain Horatio Hornblower, starring Gregory Peck, was produced. More recently (1998-2003) A & E created an 8-part series of the stories with Ioan Gruffudd, the British actor, cast as the beloved hero.

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The Hornblower Saga in chronological order: Mr. Midshipman Hornblower, Lieutenant Hornblower, Hornblower and the Hotspur, Hornblower During the Crisis, Hornblower and the Atropos, Beat to Quarters, Ship of the Line, Flying Colors, Commodore Hornblower, Lord Hornblower, and Admiral Hornblower in the West Indies.

 

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Categories: British novels, Classics, Historical Fiction, Inspiration, Romantic Fiction, Uncategorized | 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

Death Comes to Pemberley – Pride and Prejudice has a sequel after almost 200 years

death comes to pemberley 1How is it remotely possible that a sequel published nearly tw hundred years after the original novel and by another author could reflect the style and feeling of the first story? P. D. James succeeded brilliantly with Death Comes to Pemberley, published in 2011 by Alfred A. Knopf, New York, and a sequel, of sorts, to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (1813).

James seamlessly sewed a murder mystery plot to a beloved 19th century romance and the reader does not feel the change in fabric. It seems as though P.D. James created these characters herself, so genuinely did she spur them to speak and act. Death Comes to Pemberley picks up only six years after Elizabeth Bennet’s marriage to Fitzwilliam Darcy. They are the proud parents of two healthy sons, and manage the glorious Pemberley estate with a mixture of hard work, team effort, and grace.

A murder is needed to disrupt the placid existence of the happy family and P. D. James provided a complex one, drawing in a very disturbing murder suspect, rogue George Wickham, with whom the Darcys severed ties after his disgraceful elopement with Elizabeth’s sister, Lydia.death comes to pemberley 2

This is definitely not a gory, forensic mystery. A delightful romance softens the story – Mr. Darcy’s lovely sister, Georgiana, now of marriageable age, must contend with the attentions of two suitors.

The reader experiences the delight of renewing the acquaintance of Elizabeth Darcy’s father, Mr. Bennet, whose sustaining presence consoles the couple during the uproar of a murder on their property. Other family members enter the fray, sweet-tempered sister Jane, and her amiable husband, Charles Bingley, shallow, self-serving Lydia Wickham, and Darcy’s austere aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. P.D.

James skillfully plotted a tasteful mystery within an authentic 19th century world, introducing the reader to the judicial system of the day. With a 30 year career in the British Civil Service, including the Police and Criminal Policy Department of Great Britain’s Home Office, P.D. James was extremely qualified to write her mystery novels, over 18 of them – many featuring Inspector Adam Dalgliesh.

P.D. James, 1920-2014, was a former governor of the BBC and a recipient of the Mystery Writers of America Grand Master Award. She lived in London and Oxford and is survived by two daughters, five grandchildren, and eight great-grandchildren.

death comes to pemberley

Produced by the BBC, the TV mini-series Death Comes to Pemberley aired in 2013, starring Anna Maxwell Martin as Elizabeth Darcy, Matthew Rhys as Fitzwilliam Darcy, and Matthew Goode as George Wickham. Its lush scenery, attention to period detail, and excellent acting make it a worthwhile program.  If your stack of books to read is teetering and threatening to fall over, you may enjoy this wonderful production instead.

Author’s Note: “I owe an apology to the shade of Jane Austen for involving her beloved Elizabeth in the trauma of a murder investigation, especially as in the final chapter of Mansfield Park Miss Austen made her views plain: ‘Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery. I quit such odious subjects as soon as I can, impatient to restore everybody not greatly in fault themselves to tolerable comfort, and to have done with all the rest.’ No doubt she would have replied to my apology by saying that, had she wished to dwell on such odious subjects, she would have written this story herself, and done it better.” P.D. James, 2011

P.D. James had nothing for which to apologize; she gave us a precious parting gift – the resurrection of beloved characters and a wonderful story.  We owe her a debt of gratitude.

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P.D. James 1920-2014

Categories: British novels, Mystery, Romantic Fiction | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good: Jan Karon Invites us to Return to Mitford

“Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person: having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but to pour them out.  Just as they are – chaff and grain together, knowing that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then with the breath of kindness, blow the rest away.” Geo. Eliot 1819-1880

Back in March 2014 I blogged again on author Jan Karon, recommending the Mitford companion book Patches of Godlight. Here I reprint those words of my post about the Mitford series that I now cheerfully “eat”:

“Jan Karon has finished writing about Mitford, so for those of us who have come to the end of the novels, this volume and the Mitford Bedside Companion help us manage our feelings of loss.” (https://pineneedlesandpapertrails.wordpress.com/2014/03/17/patches-of-godlight-companion-book-to-jan-karons-mitford-years-series/)

With great jubilation I now type the following: Ms. Karon wrote another novel in the Mitford series, published on September 2, entitled Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good. Promoted as the tenth Mitford novel, it comes in chronological order as the 13th about Father Tim Kavanaugh. (See publication list below.)

If I knew the author personally I would bring her a bouquet of two dozen roses of her favorite hue and kneel down to kiss her hand after laying the flowers across her arms. Since I am simply one of her millions of fans, I humbly offer this glowing book recommendation in lieu of flowers to show her my gratitude for returning to Mitford to give us another wonderful story.

Reprinted with permission Photo Credit: Candace Freeland

Reprinted with permission
Photo Credit: Candace Freeland

2005 was the year the penultimate Mitford novel was published (Light from Heaven), yet Ms. Karon masterfully and seamlessly brings Father Timothy Kavanaugh and his wife, Cynthia, back, in place and time, to the small town of Mitford, North Carolina in Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good immediately after their exhausting travels in Ireland (In the Company of Others, pub. 2011)

Andrea Larson, a goodreads.com reviewer and a Readers’ Advisor at a public library in suburban Chicago, summarized the main theme and plot lines of the newest novel:

“This may be one of my favorite book titles ever. After all, isn’t it what we all wish for? And if you’re a Father Tim fan, you’ll know that he has, in fact, gotten this wish. He’s finally back in Mitford, the idyllic North Carolina mountain town that is the scene of the first nine books in the series, with his lovely wife Cynthia and the eccentric cast of characters we’ve come to know so well. But although he’s back at home, Father Tim’s life is not the same. He’s no longer the rector of Lord’s Chapel, the local Episcopal church, and he must now figure out how he wants to spend his time in retirement. Without his calling, he’s a bit at sea, but as always, somehow events conspire to help him find his way.

Karon has an incredible gift for illuminating the sacred in the everyday, and she does it with her usual brilliance in this book. Ordinary life becomes something greater. Meaningful quotes appear on the windows of the town bookstore. A visit to the Children’s Hospital precipitates a turnaround in the delinquent behavior of one of Father Tim’s teenage charges. A wayward priest earns forgiveness from his flock. Karon’s trademark gentle humor is also ever-present – one recurring theme is the opening of a new spray-tan machine at Fancy Skinner’s beauty salon, which goes over like gangbusters, much to Father Tim’s dismay.”

Father Tim manages to profoundly influence the lives of friends and relatives in the community. However, this main character, albeit central, is not like some Superman, saving the day all by himself, with superhuman strength. The entire community of Mitford struggles to answer the question put so baldly by intrepid journalist Vanita Bentley of the local Mitford Muse newspaper: “Does Mitford Still Take Care of Its Own?” The 511-page novel wrestles with that question because people are in trouble and the town is neglected.

Echoes of this important query reverberate within me: Do I care about others? Is my community intact, thriving, and growing? Am I a contributor to this growth?

“Hope springs eternal” in Jan Karon’s novels, yet not because life is idyllic. Do you realize how intense are the themes the author weaves through the stories set in the “sweet small town” of Mitford? (Marital infidelity, alcoholism, clinical depression, schizophrenia, sex addiction, cancer, and child abuse.) And yet, we readers do not finish the book and close the cover despairing. Why not?

Because, like Victor Hugo, Jan Karon subtly yet steadily tells us, through each situation in Mitford, that God is at work, and  often through human intermediaries: “Have courage for the great sorrows of life and patience for the small ones; and when you have laboriously accomplished your daily task, go to sleep in peace. God is awake.” (Victor Hugo, author of Les Miserables)

People can, and will, rise to new heights of sacrifice to help others. Do you believe this? I do. I am strengthened by Ms. Karon’s books to do my part and to have faith that God is doing His with great effectiveness and love.

Here is my favorite blog comment from my original post on Mitford https://pineneedlesandpapertrails.wordpress.com/2013/04/14/have-you-been-home-lately-at-home-in-mitford-by-jan-karon/: “Jan Karon is one of my favorites. She can walk you into another life from the first word on the page. I loved each person that she introduced to me on our journeys together, and cringed at the mishaps and felt embarrassment when they did. Ms Karon has the magic. Father Tim has my devotion. I walk away from each visit with Father Tim with a sermon in my heart”. http://blessedx5ks.wordpress.com

PRIZE FOR BEST COMMENT: I will send a free copy of the 20th Anniversary edition of At Home in Mitford to whoever writes the best comment on this post.

The Mitford series novels in order of publication: At Home in Mitford (1994), A Light in the Window (1995), These High, Green Hills (1996), Out to Canaan (1997), A New Song (1999), A Common Life (2001), In This Mountain (2002), Shepherds Abiding (2003), Light From Heaven (2005), Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good (2014)

The Father Tim novels: Home to Holly Springs (2008), In the Company of Others (2011)

Author’s website: http://www.mitfordbooks.com

Categories: Chick lit, Humorous, Inspiration, Romantic Fiction | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

City of Tranquil Light – Summer Reading Favorite

city of tranquil light 4Summer reading is a very special type of experience because it often takes places out of doors, on a beach or a porch swing. Often we allow ourselves a larger allocation of time to read during this season, giving ourselves a little break from the hard work ethic of the school year and the full calendar of goals and achievements.

So that means we need some rich reading options and I have one to recommend: City of Tranquil Light by Bo Caldwell, first published in 2010. I blogged on this novel eighteen months ago, but if you missed it here is another chance.

A former Stegner Fellow in Creative Writing at Stanford University, Bo Caldwell demonstrates her ability to provide a fulfilling sensory experience as she recreates a slice of place and time in early twentieth-century China. The two thousand-year-old dynasty is crumbling and civil war rocks the county. Into this turmoil steps a set of unmarried mid-western Mennonite missionaries, Will and Katherine, who are each determined to give their skills and their hearts to the people of China.

They are the good kind of missionaries with the respect for their adopted country that is the foundation of true service: “Katherine, there are practices in this country that you will dislike, I assure you. But some of these we must accept as they are. We are here to offer the gift of faith, not to remake their way of life, even when the change seems necessary and right. It is a question of choosing your battles. Remember that we are guests, and uninvited ones at that.” (Will Kiehn)

Caldwell thoroughly researched the history of her grandparents’ lives as missionaries, as well as this historical period in China, and that background gives this fictional story a realism in its setting and a high level of tragedy in its plot line.

Poignantly, Caldwell describes the resultant suffering as the Communists defeat the Imperial government. Will and Katherine marry and then align wholeheartedly with their Chinese friends to endure this troubled period in an ancient and beautiful land. The opening chapters detail the couple’s initial meeting, but the majority of the book takes place as they walk out their married life together.

In my opinion, this novel satisfies the avid historical fiction reader, the romantic, those who love beautiful prose, and the reader searching for an inspirational story. In the novel, Will reflects on his long life “When I was twenty-one and on my way to China, I tried to envision my life there. I saw myself preaching to huge gatherings of people, baptizing eager new converts, working with my brothers in Christ to improve their lives. I did not foresee the hardships and dangers that lay ahead: the loss of one so precious, the slow and painful deprivation of drought and famine, the continual peril of violence, the devastation of war, the threat to my own dear wife. Again and again we were saved by the people we came to help and carried through by the Lord we had come to serve. I am amazed at His faithfulness; even now our lives there fill me with awe.” (p. 9)

Bo Caldwell

Bo Caldwell

 

 

 

 

Categories: Chick lit, Historical Fiction, Inspiration, Romantic Fiction | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Crossing Cultures: The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency

“The quality of the idea, the skill of the plot, the depth of the characterization, the distinctive style of the author – that’s the best I can do by way of defining a good book.  When you find one, you recognize it.” Gladys Hunt, Honey for A Child’s Heart

One of the primary reasons I read fiction and go to the movies is so that I can travel.  Vicariously of course.  I used to actually go to foreign places: Brasil, Honduras, Israel, to name a few.  Now I am bound to American soil with many responsibilities so I “go places” through books and film.  Recently, one of my favorite literary trips has been to Botswana, Africa.

The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency is a series set in this southern African country and first published in 2007.  The first book in the series, entitled The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency starts a wonderful journey into the fascinating world of memorable and humorous characters.

The series is fairly slow-paced, avoids gruesome descriptions of murders, and does not thrill with conspiracies and thwarting “take-over-the-world” type villains.  However, it is appealing because it takes the reader deep into the world of cultural Botswana.

Bestselling author Alexander McCall Smith, born in Zimbabwe and a law professor in Scotland,  worked for a time in the setting where he helped set up a law school at the University of Botswana.

Though not necessarily a series only for women, the main character, Precious Ramotswe, is a middle-aged woman who opens a detective agency because “a woman sees more than a man sees”.  In her own words, Mma Ramotswe claims: “It is my duty to help…. my brothers and sisters…solve the mysteries in their lives.  That is what I am called to do.” (The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, p. 4)

One of the cultural treasures I received from these stories is how Mma Ramotswe and her rich cast of supporting characters show the universal need for kindness and courtesy in human relationships.  My teenage daughters and I greet each other in the morning now with the customary Batswanan words: “Have you slept well, Mma?” a greeting that is used whatever time of day a stranger, acquaintance or friend is encountered.

To my delight book #13 was published in April 2012, The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection. It was just as wonderful as the previous twelve. Now I am on the library waiting list for the most recent titles in the series The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon (2013) and The Handsome Man’s De Luxe Cafe (2014).

A film adaptation, directed by Anthony Minghella, and produced by the Weinstein Company, premiered on HBO in March 2009.  I am frustrated that nothing more has been produced, since this first effort was excellent!

Jill Scott as Mma Ramotse

A quick disclaimer: It is undeniable that we have different tastes in fiction.  That means some of my readers will not like what I like.  The books recommended today address some weightier social ills and unlovely personal life choices, but all within a context of characters who, I believe, leave us with a true residue of goodness and inspiration.

For more information about Alexander McCall Smith

Categories: British novels, Chick lit, Humorous, Inspiration, Mystery, Romantic Fiction | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 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

Have You Been Home Lately? – At Home In Mitford by Jan Karon

at-home-in-mitfordAlmost twenty years ago, successful advertising executive, Jan Karon left behind her fast-paced life in the city and moved to Blowing Rock, North Carolina to pursue her childhood passion of writing.  What she created is a contemporary classic. The Mitford Series is made up of ten novels written in a vignette format that intertwine the stories of finely-drawn characters who inhabit the fictional mountainous town of Mitford, North Carolina. The first in the series, At Home in Mitford, became a new York Times bestseller the same year my first child was born.  I waited impatiently for each new novel’s publication and was always rewarded with another charming, humorous installment.

Father Timothy Kavanagh, the central character in the beloved Mitford series, epitomizes the Mitford town motto – “We take care of our own.”  His parish is wider than the Lord’s Chapel where he is the Episcopalian rector.  His heart reaches out to anyone he encounters, proven by his daily waking prayer: “Lord, make me a blessing to someone today. Through Christ our Lord, Amen”.   Delightfully, Father Tim is also intelligent and well-read; his speech flows with literary quotations and references.

The world of Mitford may be charming, but it is not idyllic.  Difficulties afflict Father Tim: loneliness, physical disease, doubt, and clinical depression; yet a message of hope is woven throughout each novel which reflects the author’s worldview. Because he loves us, God works things together for our good.  The personal  hardship experienced by author Jan Karon creates a depth to the stories: “There was a lot of brokenness in my family,” she observes. “Writing is a way of processing our lives. And it can be a way of healing.” (Star Tribune, Minneapolis-St. Paul).  Karon married young and was divorced soon after, raising her daughter for many years as a single parent. Karon describes herself as having been “. . . driven to the wall by the circumstances and tragedy of life” which led her to embrace Christianity (Christianity Today’s website). Another good interview on Jan Karon’s life and faith journey can be found here: http://aredeemedlife.wordpress.com/interviews/on-the-road-with-jan-karon/

Father Tim is joined by a cast of endearing characters that populate Mitford and its surroundings. Our hearts are irresistibly drawn to Dooley, the lovable, yet unloved young boy who comes to Father Tim’s back door looking for a place to “take a dump”.  (Yes, that is what the author means!) Endearing toothless Uncle Bill – long-suffering husband of a mentally ill wife, Miss Sadie Baxter – sweet-tempered, aging spinster, Percy Mosely – owner of the Main Street Grill, all these characters are seen through the eyes of Father Tim.  “He sees these diamonds in the rough with compassionate love. Without fail, he lives out the kind of love that sees the potential of others and never gives up on them,” states my friend Joy – an avid Mitford fan.

The romance in the series captivates readers.  Doris, my best friend from childhood, told me, “I am amazed that Father Tim, a bachelor at the age of 60, would take a chance at loving someone romantically.  In my mind he was very brave to be open to this new life.” Although Karon offers a variety of romantic intrigues throughout the series, Father Tim and Cynthia Coppersmith steal the romantic spotlight at their advanced ages, which is fairly unique in modern fiction.

I have finished all ten novels and found comfort, hope, and a lifting of my heart. The only complaints over the years from friends who didn’t like the series include “too sweet” and “too slow”.  If you have already read the books, please comment about your experience in Mitford. As Jan Karon says on her website: “My character driven work seeks to give readers a large extended family they can call their own.”

The Mitford Years: ten novels in order of publication:

At Home in Mitford (1994)

A Light in the Window (1995)

These High, Green Hills (1996)

Out to Canaan (1997)

A New Song (1999)

A Common Life (2001)

In This Mountain (2002)

Shepherds Abiding (2003)

Light From Heaven (2005)

Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good (2014)

Jan Karon continued Father Tim’s story in his later years in settings beyond Mitford in the Father Tim novels: Home to Holly Springs, and In the Company of Others.  More information at http://www.mitfordbooks.com.  My favorite comment by a pineneedlesandpapertrails reader is Mimiswardrobe@wordpress.com: “I love the Mitford books, and I’m delighted to see that I missed the last one so I still have a new one to enjoy!  Yes, they are slow, but like many slow rivers, they run deep!  Rapids may be exciting, but they don’t give you much chance for introspection.  What is wonderful about Jan Karon’s books is that her characters seem so real that reading one of her stories makes us feel like we’ve been to Mitford on vacation.”

Categories: Chick lit, Classics, Humorous, Inspiration, Romantic Fiction | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 27 Comments

City of Tranquil Light – A Story of Unfailing Love

city of tranquil light“A woman of forty-seven who has been married twenty-seven years and has six children knows what love really is and once described it for me like this: ‘Love is what you have been through with somebody.'” James Thurber

The publishing industry floods us with romantic fiction.  Hollywood movies too, are so often either thrillers or romantic comedies.  These matchmaking novels and movies entertain us and have the additional value of showing us whether or not two individuals are well-suited, though sometimes I feel compelled to yell at the protagonist in frustration: “He’s not the right one! Don’t choose him!”

Match making is a fairly harmless natural instinct. It’s even possible to find novels in this genre that avoid descriptions of sexual encounters which is where my my personal moral bar is set.  My complaint is that the stories are so one-dimensional and only take us on the attraction journey between people.  It can easily become a mono diet of romance that ends only in a wedding ceremony.  I need more than that. I need answers to the question of how do I live in love for a lifetime with one flawed person? Or on the flip side, how does my spouse live with my immaturity and shortcomings?  Deeper romance books are helpful too, for young people waiting to make the decision to marry, and the many who have been married and divorced.

I believe the novel City of Tranquil Light offers an answer.  The author, Bo Caldwell, researched the history of her grandparents’ lives as missionaries in China that gives this story a wonderful realism. Poignantly, Caldwell describes China in the 1920s and the resultant suffering as the Communists defeat the Imperial government.  Along with their Chinese friends, the missionary couple of the story endures this troubled period in an ancient and beautiful land. The opening chapters detail the couple’s initial meeting, but the majority of the book takes place as they walk out their married life together.  Author Bo Caldwell documents a tender, enduring love between Katherine and Will in adversity.

I gave this novel to my reading club friend April, to test out if it was “bloggable”  Putting into words why she loved it, April wrote: “I loved this book because I was drawn to the story of this couple following God’s call on their life. Even though they experienced many hardships, and the personal cost was great for them, they didn’t feel it was a sacrifice. Their obedience to God and their love for each other and the people and country of China was very inspiring.”

The Kiehn’s married relationship echoes the marriage vows so many of us are familiar with “for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until we are parted by death”. p 427 Book of Common Prayer. (BCP) Less well-known are the powerful words in the BCP which describe the purpose of marriage: “The union of husband and wife in heart, mind, and body is intended by God for their mutual joy; for the help and comfort given one another in prosperity and adversity; and when it is God’s will, for the procreation of children and their nurture in the knowledge and love of the Lord.” p 423.

If we remove for a moment the consuming occupation of nurturing our children, a deeper layer of bonding in marriage becomes more visible: a shared mission.  In the case of Katherine and Will Kiehn, each individually goes to China to serve as a missionary. They meet and marry “on the mission field”.  Serving as missionaries together as a married couple certainly isn’t the only way to share a “mission”.  Katherine and Will, by the way, have very different abilities and gifts which they exercise while in China.  In our case, my husband is a skilled family and marriage therapist and an athlete.  I am a writer, homeschool teacher and women’s group leader.  But we share the same mission to show others the reality of a loving God.

So put aside the other type of romantic novels, and check out City of Tranquil Light

Many novels depict interesting married couples including:

Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, Strong Poison, Busman’s Honeymoon by Dorothy Sayers – four of her mysteries recount the courtship and marriage of Lord Peter and Harriet.

Father Tim and Cynthia, At Home in Mitford, A Light in the Window and the other “Mitford” novels by Jan Karon

Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes, The BeeKeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King. King has written twelve novels that showcase their partnership to solve crimes and bring the guilty to justice.

Benjamin January and Rose, A Free Man of Color and other novels by Barbara Hambly – a fascinating mystery series set in New Orleans in the 1830s.

Categories: Chick lit, Historical Fiction, Inspiration, Romantic Fiction, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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