Romantic Fiction

Courage to Change: Brat Farrar by Josphine Tey

If a book leaves you exactly where it found you, thinking and feeling nothing you hadn’t felt or thought before, you are no different for having read it.  The criterion for a memorable book is the hope of rereading it some day and a passion to share the book with someone else.” Glady Hunt, Honey for a Woman’s Heart

So many wonderful books would be hidden from our knowledge without the enthusiastic recommendation of a dear friend or relative.  A novel that has remained on my personal “Top Ten” list for over twenty years came from just that source.  Years ago, Margaret Turner, in her eighties and legally blind, passed on to me a tattered anthology of mystery novels by Josephine Tey.  Brat Farrar was my favorite. First published in 1949 and set in rural England, it is a mystery without the standard corpse on the hearthrug and polite police inspector.  Instead, it is a masterpiece of deep themes, clearly defined characters, and building suspense.

The main character, Brat Farrar, is a young man with many flaws and a “checkered” past.  As the story starts, Brat agrees to pose as the heir to a fortune for personal financial gain.  Clearly, this is an immoral choice.  Yet, all through the story, I felt a kinship with him.  His motivation gets challenged early on in his deception.  He experiences “a faint queasiness, a sort of spiritual indigestion” (p. 121) that leads to profound change during the course of the novel.  This is definitely not one of those books with static characters who never learn or grow.  Instead, I find inspiration that we, too, are able to be transformed.

Also, Tey interweaves a beautiful theme about our need to belong throughout the story.  Brat, an orphan, is motivated by this visceral human impulse: “No one else had taken his hand in just that way.  Casual — no, not possessive… Belonging.  It had something to do with belonging.  The hand had taken him for granted because he belonged.  It was the unthinking friendliness of a woman to one of her family. Was it because he had never ‘belonged’ before that made that commonplace gesture into a benediction?” (p. 158)

This mystery novel is chock-full of charming, intricate characters: the rector, George Peck, is described as being ugly, but possessing great kindness and wisdom: “One of George Peck’s charms was that he listened to what was said to him.” (p.202),  Aunt Bee holds the family together and shows Brat undeserved kindness.  Then there is Simon, Brat’s rival for the family fortune! The plot twists, turns and culminates in a riveting denouement.

My proof that I love this novel is that I have read it four times!  Josephine Tey, is one of the pen names for Elizabeth MacKintosh who died at an early age and only published seven novels.  Thankfully, all of them are still in print.

My disclaimer: Early in the novel, Brat’s past is mentioned which includes allusions to sexual encounters.

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Categories: British novels, Classics, Inspiration, Mystery, Romantic Fiction, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Books for Girls: Timeless Virtues

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 her find her unique beauty, her intelligence, and her place in the world.  If Anne can do it, so can I.

Mary Lennox, the main character in The Secret Garden, is drawn by a mixture of compassion and curiosity to discover the sufferer secreted away deep inside the manor house: “The door of her room was ajar and the sound came down the corridor, a far-off faint sound of fretful crying… She felt as is she must find out what it was… The corridor looked very long and dark, but she was too excited to mind that.  So she went on with her dim light, almost feeling her way, her heart beating so loud that she fancied she could hear it.”  This young girl becomes the agent of restoration for a sick child and an entire household; not just a garden.  How about us? Aren’t we restorers too?

Christy Huddleston (Christy by Catherine Marshall) exhibits kindness, mixed with determined bravery as she leaves behind her citified, comfortable life to teach destitute children in the Appalachian Mountains.  What a culture shock she faces, but Christy rises to the challenge and grows into a mature young woman who changes Cutter Gap.  I am destined to change the world like Christy.

Hannah, my youngest child, loves Lucy Pevensie of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe because Lucy is the youngest sibling and yet sees with eyes of faith and doesn’t doubt.  In later adventures, Lucy sees Aslan when no one else can.

We may have missed certain books during our growing up years, or perhaps read them with only half our attention. It’s not too late; we can go back and scoop them up again.  If we didn’t get enough faith, hope, kindness, purity, courage, and destiny in our youth, it is all still waiting for us in these tales of inspiring fictional characters. Sharing these nourishing books with our daughters and granddaughters makes them come alive again for us.

I have never read Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm by Kate Douglas Wiggin or Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink.  My 13-year-old friend, Emma, tells me Heidi by Johanna Spyri is a must-read also. So I have some catching up to do! Which girl heroines live in your heart? Drop me a comment and let me know.

My Top Ten in alphabetical order:

Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White (wonderful illustrator – Garth Williams)

Christy by Catherine Marshall

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder

A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett (best illustrator – Tasha Tudor)

The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (best illustrator Tasha Tudor)

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare

Categories: Classics, Girl Fiction, Humorous, Inspiration, Read Aloud, Romantic Fiction | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 23 Comments

The Yada Yada Prayer Group

“I solve problems in my life by sharing in the lives of others.  I grow spiritually by encountering the wisdom of people who have thought through issues that still cause me to struggle.” Gladys Hunt, Honey for a Woman’s Heart

Sometimes I avoid Christian fiction because I am held back by my personal bias that their plots are superficial or formulaic; i.e. too much romance, problems solved too easily.  But I also crave hope and strength from the books I read.  I certainly don’t want a “gray” book, which offers only hopeless tragedy or no answers to life’s problems!

The Yada Yada Prayer Group by Neta Jackson (Integrity Publishers, 2003) may have a bright neon-colored cover but what lies between the pages is not a “light” read.  The main character, suburban elementary school teacher Jodi Baxter, encounters real-life issues and problems when she gets assigned to a “random” prayer group at an urban Christian Women’s Conference.  Her reluctance and naiveté are not enough to keep her from becoming sucked into the vortex of the lives of eleven other women who are culturally diverse, but in need of the genuine caring of one another.   In Jodi’s own words: “We were a drawer of mismatched socks if ever there was one –I wasn’t sure we even liked each other.  But we were Prayer Group Twenty-Six and we had the chance… to give God a sacrifice of praise and love a young woman who was fresh out of prison.”

What results is an amazing journey of true heart connections.  As the reader I related to many of the book’s characters; even those who were so different from me.  The author describes two women in the prayer group: Avis (the classy principal of the elementary school): “she had a kind of authority — not bossy, just firm, confident — that gathered up the loose ends and knotted them so they wouldn’t fray any further.” (p. 27) and Florida (5 years saved, 5 years sober) : “Our lives were about as different as two people’s could be, but I liked her.   Really like her.  I could only imagine everything she’d been through, but she was so upbeat.  So close to God.  Where did that come from?” (p. 84)

Jodi’s spiritual journey drew me right in.  Her connection with God and the prayer group women keep her from drowning when faced with a horrific personal crisis.  I truly learned from this story: to pray more in faith, to leave assumptions of others at the door, to persevere in friendship when others are in trouble.  I don’t know how autobiographical this story is, but the dedication page may indicate that author Neta Jackson learned some of these lessons herself:  “To my sisters in the women’s Bible studywho loved me anyway and stretched my faith.

If the story and the characters grab hold of you, six more Yada Yada Prayer Group books await.  My friend Heidi, a die-hard non-fiction reader, succumbed to the book series’ appeal and is currently reading book #4.  Learn more about the author: http://daveneta.com/index.htm.

I had the fun experience of hearing back from Neta Jackson by email, thanking me for my positive blog post about the Yada Yada Prayer Group series.  She has written another wonderful series – the first title  is Where Do I Go?

Categories: Chick lit, Humorous, Inspiration, Romantic Fiction | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

So what is the difference between review and recommend?  In this blog, I hope to do the latter; not try to analyze a long list of works of fiction for their merits, but tell the world about the books I already love and why I love them.  Have you ever loved a book so much that after reading it you wanted to buy everyone a copy, secretly place the book on  the welcome mats of special friends, just to give them joy?

You can pick up a true treasure, a series set in Botswana, Africa 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.  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 title in the series The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon.

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)

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

Mma Precious Ramotswe and her rich cast of supporting characters show us 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.

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.  “Take what you like and leave the rest” as they say in Al-Anon and Happy Reading!

Categories: British novels, Chick lit, Humorous, Inspiration, Mystery, Romantic Fiction | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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