Category Archives: My Re-Reads

The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope

Elizabeth Marie Pope published two novels: The Sherwood Ring and The Perilous Gard. I adored both books in high school and read them repeatedly. I wrote a review of The Sherwood Ring way back in 2013 (not a very good review, somehow Holmes became homes, but a heartfelt one.) Since then, however, I have not had much to do with Elizabeth Marie Pope and her novels. Something recently reminded me of The Perilous Gard and I decided to get it from the library and give it another re-read. I expected a charming stroll through a former favorite. Instead, I made it halfway through and discovered I was…bored. 

More than bored, I was dismayed to discover I wasn’t even enjoying the story. The writing felt long and unnecessarily cluttered with semicolons and run-on sentences. Even though I had read the book many times before, I couldn’t remember what happened next. How had this story left so little an impression on me? I still loved the stark, black and white illustrations but I couldn’t find the magic that once drew me back over and over again. Until I hit the climax. 

The Perilous Gard is set in the final years of the reign of Queen Mary Tudor. Lady Katherine Sutton, lady-in-waiting to the Princess Elizabeth, is banished to the Perilous Gard, a castle in the middle of nowhere. While there, she discovers a dark secret about the disappearance of a little girl and the existence of Fairy Folk. In order to save the young lord of the manor, she must rescue him and the surrounding area from an ancient evil.

Once the book hit about halfway, things started picking up. I didn’t notice the writing as much and I found myself simply swept into the story, curious about what would come next. The world of the fairies feeds the imagination and Kate’s adventures in their land more than makes up for the slow first half. For the second half alone, I would call this a good, even a great, book. 

However, it was the last chapter that won me over. It was like…reading a memory, but not in the sense that I suddenly remembered what came next. That was still dim to me. However, as I read that final chapter, I remembered reading the words before, over and over. It wasn’t just the book I loved; it was this last chapter and the final hurdles Kate and Christopher overcome to live happily ever after. As a high schooler, this was my ideal romance. Now, to be honest, the lines seem a little corny, but I remember how much I loved them. I almost memorized them because I read them so often, just that same final chapter, over and over. 

For that sense of memory, I feel very indebted to this book. Is it good? I think so, but I am hardly an unbiased audience. I love Kate and I love Christopher and I see how my love of them led me to love Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer and the romances they wrote when I was a little older. This was a good re-read. In fact, I might just read that last chapter again tonight, for old times sake. 


A Re-rereview of The Blue Sword

Today I finished re-reading The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley…again. Not only have I read this particular book countless times, I have reviewed on this blog before. However, once again I find myself disagreeing with an earlier opinion. I loved the story in high school, found it disappointing in college, and now love it again. I love because in it I see the younger me, but also because I see the current me too. I see the themes, ideas, and characters that fed me. It is like the Inkheart quote:

“Isn’t it odd how much fatter a book gets when you’ve read it several times?…As if something were left between the pages every time you read it. Feelings, thoughts, sounds, smells…and then, when you look at the book again many years later, you find yourself there, too, a slightly younger self, slightly different, as if the book had preserved you like a pressed flower…both strange and familiar.”

The Blue Sword is an old friend. We had a bit of a separation, but now we are good again. In fact, better. Looking at the story now, I realize what an impact it had on me. It wasn’t that I wanted to visit Damar, like I would Narnia. It was rather that I wanted to be Hari, in a way I never felt about Susan or Lucy. I emotionally connected with her. I understood her boredom and I wanted to escape it like she did. I wanted to go on a quest. I wanted to discover secret guardians and magical abilities. I wanted to be a brilliant horsewoman and swordsman and save the day. I loved Hari for her confusion and frustration and emotions. I loved her for her courage. I wanted to face the world with the same determination as Hari; I too wanted to be part of something greater.

In 2011, I raved about the book but claimed it was only a 4 star. In 2013, I semi-criticized my own contentment and basically declared myself too grown up for the story. Now, I find myself a little older and (I hope) a little wiser and I relate more to C.S. Lewis’s words to his goddaughter, “Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.” For me in 2016, this is beyond a 5 star read. This is a cherished memory.

I am always drawn to authors who claim Robin McKinley as a favorite author. It is like we share a secret understanding about fantasy and what makes it good. This book is at a level with my other favorite fantasy novels, like Plain Kate, The Silver Bowl Series (the first two, at any rate), The Queen’s Thief Series and The Chronicles of Prydain. However, it tops them because it comes with a special connection from growing up. I treasure The Blue Sword because of that, and I hope I won’t lose thta knowledge again.


2015 Reading Challenge – The Mind Blowing Ones

It is the most wonderful time of the year! No, not because the kids are jingle belling (is that even a thing?) or because everyone is telling me “be of good cheer!” (definitely not a thing) but because….drum roll please!

I have once again completed my reading challenge and now can sit back, dust off the blog, and write about my favorite things…namely, good books. And bad books. And maybe, depending how into things I get, all the books in-between. This year I read 162 books. That number does not include re-reads or manga or the loads of kdramas I watch (I really should get credit for those. Subtitles are an undervalued form of reading!)

No, I mean, 162 genuine, brand new, never-before-read-by-Amy books! That totals roughly 49,580 new pages. As usual, it is a mixed grouping of fiction and non-fiction, spanning many genres. Unusual, however, is that I had more 5 star than 1 star reads. Of those 5 star reads, several far exceeded my usual 5 star rating. All 5 stars are good, but these were particularly challenging and/or view shaping for me. Originally I was just going to highlight them in the greater 5 star blog post, but I read so many good books this year that the post became ridiculously long! To balance that I have split “the exceptional few” from the other amazing ones. So keep an eye out for my next blog post with the other 5 star reads!

Mind Blowing and View Shaping 5 Star Reads from 2015:

Good Profit: How Creating Value for Others Built One of the World’s Most Successful Companies by Charles Koch

Coupled with my own experience with Market Based Management, Good Profit easily stands out as one of the most impactful books I read in 2015. What drove Koch Industries’ expansion from a $21 million company in 1967 to the $115 billion one it is today? Charles Koch writes about forming an MBM culture and creating long term value for society. This book is immensely readable and practical. Good Profit is more than one man’s business reflections. It is an analysis of what success means and how companies can work for the betterment of their “customers, employees, shareholders, and society.”

I love a lot of quotes in this book, but none more than Charles Koch’s conclusion:

“The greatest gift we can receive or pass on is the opportunity to find and pursue our passion, and in doing so, to make a difference by helping others improve their lives. To be truly rich is to live a life of meaning.”

 

Why Not Women? A Fresh Look at Scripture on Women in Missions, Ministry, and Leadership by Loren Cunningham and David Joel Hamilton

A very powerful book about the role of women leaders in ministry. While I am not sure I agree with everything in it, Why Not Women? shook up a lot of things I took at face value and really encouraged me to study the subject deeper. I love how footnoted this book is. Entirely readable but still academic. The authors analyze the Greek passages where Paul talks about women and provide some fascinating analysis into what he actually meant. What I especially appreciate about Why Not Women?, however, is how much the authors focus on Jesus’ radical, culture-breaking treatment of women. They go into the history of women’s roles in Greek, Roman, and Jewish culture and illustrate how different the Christian church was. Whether you agree with its conclusions or not, Why Not Women? is worth reading because it is a book full of grace that goes a long way in restoring the identity and value of women, in the church and out.

(Thank you, Anna, for this fantastic Christmas present!)

 

Surprised By Oxford by Carolyn Weber

To extremely simplify, this is the coming-to-faith memoir of a woman at Oxford University. However, it is so much more than that. Surprised by Oxford is a book that breathes. It questions and answers and leaves unanswered, offering many ideas for the reader to wrestle with in its wake. I love this book for its references to Oxford, places I know and love like St. Ebbes Church and New College. I love it for all the quotes from Wordsworth and Lewis and many other authors. I love it for Carolyn Weber’s conversion experience and her willingness to be honest, vulnerable, and unafraid to express her love for God. Most of all, I love this book because it reminds me of why I love learning. It reawakens joy in me. This is a thick book, 400 some pages, and not one you consume in a sitting! But it is so worth it as a book to sit and chew over and highlight and re-read and learn from.

 

Entrepreneurship For Human Flourishing by Peter Greer

Balancing Surprised by Oxford’s 400+ pages, Entrepreneurship For Human Flourishing comes in at just over a 100 pages. It is a tiny book, easy to read, but very powerful. Peter Greer challenges the distinction between “non-profit” and “for-profit” work in helping third world countries.  He share stories of individuals who used their “for profit” companies to provide jobs, expand education, and bring life to communities. Though this book was good, I don’t feel the need to re-read it like I do the others on this list. I felt it deserved a place among the “exceptional” books, however, because of the overall influence of Peter Greer as a speaker on me. Though I’m blessed to work for an amazing non-profit, I have really changed my views on how I perceive for-profit v. non-profit organizations. One is not “holier” than the other, and as this book points out, for-profit businesses can make an incredible difference fighting hunger, poverty, etc. in ways beyond the scope of a traditional non-profit. This is a great read for students.

 

The Moral Case For Fossil Fuel by Alex Epstein

It is generally agreed that fossil fuels are a “necessary evil.” We’re dependent on them for now, but they aren’t that great and we should find an alternative. However, is this necessarily the case? The Moral Case For Fossil Fuel argues that far from being a danger, fossil fuels make our lives better and are improving the planet overall by making it safer and richer. Alex Epstein uses his background in philosophy to explore the moral case for using fossil fuel. He weighs the advantages, including the environmental ones, of using fossil fuel and contrasts it with the asserted detriments. He concludes that in order to improve lives we are morally responsible to use fossil fuels, and lots of them! Frankly, I love this book. I think everyone should read it. It is fun, easy to understand, and an extremely important voice in our current “war on fossil fuel.”


2014 Reading Challenge – My 5 Star Reviews

As far as literary merit goes, this year may go down in history as my worst in quantity and quality reading in a decade. (Did the 11 year old Amy read more non-fiction 2004 then I did in 2014? Alas, it is a possibility) The lack can be blamed on a crazy schedule. My lofty goal of 250 books rapidly dropped to 100 new books as my hours fluctuated from 40 to 60 June through November. I mainly read fiction. From Sophie Kinsella to Lloyd Alexander, this year proved eclectic within a certain genre but not very scholarly.

However, I did discover some true gems this year and so, without further ado, I present Amy’s 5 Star Reviews From 2014 (In the random order ordained by Goodreads…and me)

The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander

A fabulous fantasy/medieval/magical series following an eclectic group of friends (including Taran, the Assistant Pig Keeper, and Princess Eilonwy), I loved this series. True heroism and sacrifice are imbedded in each of the 5 books. Though I gave the majority of them 4 stars, Taran Wanderer andThe High King easily deserved their 5 stars. One of those books that brings to mind C.S. Lewis’s wise words: “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.”

Out of the Far Country: A Gay Son’s Journey to God. A Broken Mother’s Search for Hope by Christopher Yuan and his mother Angela Yuan

Discovered this book when Christopher Yuan came to speak at my college. I highly recommend it. There is so much grace found within its pages. The authors are vulnerable and willing to tell their own stories of brokenness and healing. Without compromising the truth, Out of the Far Country brings a mercy-drenched, grace filled perspective to a frequently damaging and hurtful topic.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Usually when I listen to audio books, I end up loathing the book. The speed reader in me grows bored, I feel compelled to finish, and in the end leave more frustrated than enlightened. Not with The Book Thief. I have tried reading it for years and could never get past the first few pages. Listening to it on audio, I fell in love. I understand now why this book is so beloved. I didn’t mind Death as a narrator. I enjoyed it, though he is horrible at spoilers. You would think that would slow the novel down, but it doesn’t. It wets the appetite for more. I like words and this book positively dallies in them.

Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull

I’m not a manager so I don’t know if this book succeeds in its attempt to enable a more creative work environment. However, I thoroughly enjoyed the author’s perspective about creativity and productivity, as well as the history of Pixar’s journey from Steve Jobs to Disney to the problem of sequels. I loved reading about the beginnings of my childhood friends (Woody, Buzz Lightyear, Nemo, etc.) Interesting from a historical perspective and a creative one. By the time I finished I wanted to go do something “different and zany” which is always a good feeling.

Freaky Fast Frankie Joe by Lutricia Clifton

A simply beautiful book for grade to middle school readers about a boy who goes to live with his father, step-mother, and four half-brothers when his Mom goes to jail. Despite the mature sounding plot, this novel strikes a tone of discovery, loss, family, and friendship.  It is innocent yet sorrowful. There are funny moments, sibling rivalry and of course….Freaky Fast Frankie Joe’s Delivery Service.

Assault and Flattery: The Truth About the Left and Their War on Women by Katie Pavlich

I knew the minute I saw that this book was coming out that I would love it. When I got it in August, I read straight through in maybe two hours. Then I reread it. And started it for a third time within a month. Though occasionally she grows a little caustic for my taste, the majority of this book appealed to me. She correctly points out the double standards given to women (and men) based on whether they have a “D” or an “R” by their name. I enjoy Katie Pavlich’s writing. She is a rare journalistic and political role model for young women.

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

Have you ever read a book and immediately loved it? The loving may have nothing to do with actual literary quality, but the minute you finish you know you have met a best friend. If you don’t know love Helene Hanff, you have never read anything she wrote. 84, Charing Cross Road contains the 20 year correspondence between an American authoress (Helene Hanff) and a British bookseller (Frank Doel). It is short – under a hundred pages – yet immensely endearing. Heartbreaking, amusing, beautiful and sad. And real. Perhaps that is the best part, it is the true letters exchanged by the two. Not a “romance” as advertised, but the story of a genuine love of books and humanity. (The Duchess of Bloomsbury, also by Hanff, is just as satisfying and stands as a sort of real-life sequel)

Q’s Legacy by Helene Hanff

The story behind Helene Hanff’s writing of 84, Charing Cross Road and her subsequent experience after its publishing. The book nearly left me speechless. It roused my fernweh. I adore Helene Hanff’s love of England. Her love of books. Her quirky, crisp writing style. Q’s Legacy was a nearly perfect 5 star read. It filled and yet sparked an ache for more. Marvelous.

Check out my 5 Star Reviews from 2013! – https://fernwehscall.wordpress.com/2013/12/31/2013-reading-challenge-my-5-stars/


Challenge: Ten Books That Stayed With You

Reading Challenge

“List 10 books that have stayed with you in some way. Don’t take more than a few minutes and do not think too hard. They do not have to be the ‘right’ books or great works of literature, just ones that have affected you in some way. Tag 10 friends and me so I can see your list.”

Following the example of Lady Z, The Artist Librarian who tagged me, I decided to turn this challenge into a blog post instead of a Facebook note.

This is a true challenge for me. Only 10 books? I re-read 10 of my favorite books on a monthly basis! (Okay, maybe not anymore, but I used to!)

Instead, I offer a compromise. 10 author and 10 books. 10 authors because rarely does a particular author influence me only once. 10 books because occasionally one novel completely wins over my heart and deserves a spot on the list. I am leaving The Bible and C.S. Lewis off the list because, though they deserve spots, both fulfill an ‘obvious’ role in this post.

I suppose ‘stayed with you in some way’ means ‘books that have affected you in some way’, but I could never narrow that list down to 10. Possibly not even 50. For the sake of your attention span, I am going to go with books I have read over and over. Books I can replay in my head. Books that I cannot walk past without walking to pick them up. Books (or authors) that formed me.  In only a very general order…

10 Authors That Have Stayed With Me

  1. Elizabeth George Speare. The author of my favorite novel, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Speare also wrote Calico Captive, The Sign of the Beaver, and The Bronze Bow. I’ve re-read them all numerous times over the past 10+ years.
  2. Elizabeth Marie Pope. As far as I know, she only wrote The Sherwood Ring and The Perilous Gard. I love them both.
  3. Eloise Jarvis McGraw. She wrote The Moorchild, The Golden Goblet, Moccasin Trail, Master Cornhill, and The Seventeenth Swap. Most importantly, though, McGraw wrote Mara, Daughter of the Nile.
  4. Georgette Heyer. Though best known for her Regency novels, Heyer wrote detective mysteries and medieval fiction. My favorites by her are The Grand Sophy, Frederica, Cotillion, Arabella, and Devil’s Cub though I also really enjoyed Regency Buck, Friday’s Child, The Masqueraders, and The Talisman Ring. If Heyer wrote it, I’ll definitely re-read it.
  5. Jessica Day George. Though her novels do not represent as much of my heart as the first four authors, I have read (almost) every book she has written. Her Princess and Dragon Slippers series always make for a good read.
  6. Emmuska Orczy. The Scarlet Pimpernel, people! I’ve read most of the series. It doesn’t matter how predictable his characters may be after a while, nothing beats Sir Percy Blackeney.
  7. Shannon Hale. She wrote Goose Girl. Like Jessica Day George, I easily include her as an author I have faithfully followed.
  8. Diana Wynne Jones and Patricia C. Wrede. I stick them together because each offers a series I have read numerous times but I haven’t really gotten into the rest of their work. To find my favorites, however, look no farther than Howl’s Moving Castle (all 3 books) and the Enchanted Forest Chronicles.
  9. Gail Carson Levine. I debated putting her on the list and then remembered that I re-read Ella Enchanted for like the 18th time a month ago. She definitely belongs on the list for that book alone. Fairest a good, frequently re-read, one too.
  10. Robin McKinely. I don’t like all her books. In fact, I loathe quite a few. But she did write The Blue Sword and Beauty so for those two she deserves a spot because I love The Blue Sword.

 

10 Books That Have Stayed With Me

  1. A Murder For Her Majesty by Beth Hilgartner. Third favorite/most re-read book of all time.
  2. Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster. Read it, loved it, read it again, loved it more…and so forth.
  3. Bargain Bride by Evelyn Sibley Lampman. In my opinion, a hidden gem of historical fiction. I grabbed it when the library was selling it and now have a very well-loved copy.
  4. The Iron Peacock by Mary Stetson Clark. Another great historical fiction novel.
  5. Shadow Spinner by Susan Fletcher. A story that takes place in the world of Scheherazade and her Thousand and One Nights.
  6. Around The World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne. A favorite adventure novel!
  7. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken. If you have not had the pleasure of reading this one, go by yourself a copy. Delightful storytelling.
  8. The Ordinary Princess by M.M. Kaye. Maybe because the princess’s name is Amy, I’ve always treasured this one. Truly a charming little story.
  9. Carry On, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham. It inspired me to try and read Bowditch’s The American Practical Navigator and Newton’s Principia numerous times. I never made more than a dent in either but I sure wanted to be as smart at Nathaniel Bowditch!
  10. Seven Daughter and Seven Sons by Barbara Cohen. Captures the imagination and tells a good tale

 

In retrospect, I did not purposefully make this a list of fiction or choose just about only female authors. These are just the books I go back to, over and over again, since I was a kid. They are just some of the books that make me…me.

If you liked mine, you’ll love The Artist Librarian’s! Check out Z’s post at – http://theartistlibrarian.blogspot.com/2014/09/ten-books-that-have-stayed-with-you.html#comment-form


The Blue Sword

There are some books you absolutely love as a child and later try re-reading because you remember how much you loved them. Except, something changes. You begin to notice things like plot flaws and grammar problems. A plotline that seemed totally original and creative to a 9….10…12 year old is utterly familiar and even a tad boring for 17…18…24 year old. And you kind of wonder, what happened?

In 2011 I wrote a glowing review of one of my favorite books, The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley. I’m going to include the review below. It tells a lot about me, or at least who I was. I was very proud of that review. Except only a year later I came home from college and re-read The Blue Sword and realized…it was nowhere near as good as I remembered it. In fact, it contained a lot of magic and plot elements that I disliked and even criticized in other fantasy stories. Yet somehow, I had totally missed them in this book. Missed? How do you miss obvious things like that? I am not really sure. I read it, of course, many times and certainly was aware of a certain lacking in the plot but it didn’t matter. I was caught up in my favorite parts of the story. I wasn’t going to nit-pick. Maybe it is because of that this book holds a special place in my heart, flaws and all. It was a consistent friend through the hazardous days of high school (…and high school is very hazardous, be you home-teached or public schooled.)

So here is the review I initially wrote, and here are my thoughts now….a little older and (theoretically) a little (teensy-weensy) bit wiser.

2.2.2011

She scowled at her glass of orange juice. To think that she had been delighted when she first arrived here – was it only three months ago? – with the prospect of fresh orange juice every day…

How do I explain the feeling I get when I read those words, the beginning sentences of this book? It is like a shiver goes down my back. Like I just bit into one of those oranges…and it is sweeter and juicier then I expected. Suddenly I feel like I am everywhere and nowhere. A part of me is already with Harry in Istan, drinking orange juice and attempting to be pleased, but another part of me is back to where I’ve stood so many times, behind the last bookshelf at the library, consuming the magical words I’ve dawdled in and played with time and time again. Because that has become as much a part of the memory, too…catching a few words of a favorite book in my favorite way to escape the stresses of school and life…
The Blue Sword is probably my favorite book by Robin McKinley. It holds its own in that precious list of books I can’t even put words to, books I’ll read and re-read and probably re-read again. Maybe someday I’ll try and make it a shelf, but I’ve tried before, and failed. 

The plot of The Blue Sword…
Harry Crewe’s Father dies and sent to live with her soldier brother in the wild, untamed Istan, almost a combination of the unsettled United States colonies during the early 1700’s and colonial India in the early 1900’s. I could be wrong there, but that is the imaging I’ve always gotten. She tries to please Sir Charles and Lady Amelia, the kind couple who took her in, but settling down to the relaxed, lazy life of Istan drives her crazy. She loves the desert though…the mysterious wasteland hovering tantalizingly just outside the settlement. No Homelander lives there; it is the land of the mysterious old Damarians, the Free Hillfolk. Rumor has it they possess strange powers, and many a man would give his life for the opportunity to ride once upon their beautiful, powerful horses. 
When Corlath, the King of the Hilkfold, comes to Istan with a warning and the offer of an alliance, he only half thinks they’ll believe him. It was a desperate move, but these were desperate times. The tall, blond haired young woman he saw as he stormed out should have been only another face…but unfortunately, it is one that won’t go away. His Gift, the trait passed through the Royal bloodline, won’t let him forget it. In fact, it will drive him to do the unthinkable…
Kidnap the Homelander Girl.

When I first picked up this book…I did so because I felt somehow like I had read it before. I have never been able to figure out why. But oh! I am so glad I did. At the risk of repeating myself, this is the book that, frustrated with the junk our library called teen books, I’d rush over and pick up off the shelf. And I’d re-read those first few sentences, and maybe if my day had gone particularly bad, I’d allow myself to sink into a nearby chair and just keep reading. The first sentence.
Then a paragraph. 
Then a page…
You know how some little kids have blankies? Well, I have books.
And this was one of them. 
But enough about that, what makes this book good? 
Well, Harry Crewe for one. She’s an amazing character. She grows, changes…finds purpose. She has emotions, but they’re not irritating. You don’t feel like beheading the heroine after she spends pages whining about her everything and everyone in her life. But she isn’t annoyingly perfect. She’s human, yet strong and believable . Most of all, what I think makes readers appreciate her…and what makes girls of all ages feel like they can relate to her…is simply because of who she is. Especially when we first find her, longing for something. Hunting for purpose. What teenage girl would argue they’ve never felt that way? Felt like running off into the wild unknown, daydreaming about handsome kings and horses and destiny. I sure have. And Harry…well, she kind of does too. But most of all, we look at her and see a somewhat forgotten girl. Someone who lives each day kind of bored, strong and beautiful, yet surprisingly unaware of it…and unaware of the gift she holds (oooh…yeah, I’m not giving anything away 😉 ) And then one day…BAM! She learns who she is and there is adventure and romance and, frankly, awesomeness. 
And if you like horses? There are some wicked-awesome horses in this book.
But there is also a bit of everything. It’s a fantastic plot. It weaves fantasy at some of its best, with actual struggles and memorable, good characters and interesting elements. Of adventure and romance and a hint of mystery and suspense. 
I know what you’re thinking now…after all this rambling, why did I give it four stars?
That is a bit trickier to answer, but in all fairness it must be done.
1. The writing. Oh it is good! Very good, but not amazing. It needs just a little more maturing to be worth five stars.
2. I have a confession…I didn’t adore (positively, head-over-heels) adore the Corlath. I know! Shocking. Horrifying. But I didn’t. I liked him a great deal…but he wasn’t a five star guy.
3. Well…I guess simply, I love the book, but it isn’t a five star story. The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer was five stars. Do Hard Things by Alex and Brett Harris is five stars. This is four stars.

If you love adventure, romance, or even ever felt like running away and finding a purpose…this book is for you. It is passionate and adventure filled and truly one of those forgotten books that proves how stupid modern teen writing is. Compare it to a “modern” fantasy novel, Graceling or Mistwood … The Blue Sword just blows them out of the water. There is no comparison. 
So, if you have made it to the end of this tiresomely long review of how much I love this book…congratulations. 
Really, if you are a teenage girl (like at all!) who has ever struggled with feeling forgotten, longed for a purpose, or simply just wanted to chuck life and head for the hills…you’ll love this book. 
I know I do.
To complete in the line I began with…
But she had been eager to be delighted; this was to be her home, and she wanted badly to like it, to be grateful for it – to behave well, to make her brother proud of her and Sir Charles and Lady Amelia pleased with their generosity… 

On a very far-off side note, while I recommend this book, I do not recommend its sequel… The Hero and The Sword. Many of the reviewers on here mention how much they love it. Splendid. I found it had all the things that made this book lose a star…and three more. 

8.8.2013

“[Harry] had always suffered from a vague restlessness, a longing for adventure that she told herself severely was the result of reading too many novels when she was a small child.” 

How can you not smile reading that line? That’s genius.

In order to give an accurate analysis of this book, I decided to read some of the reviews on Goodreads. And…I see a pattern. I wasn’t the only 16-year-old girl to find reassurance in the strange, fantasy world of Istan. People relate.  It may not be the most stunning writing and Harry may not be the most challenged of heroines, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that for a quiet bookworm in the back corner of a library, sometimes what you need isn’t a heroine that takes out an armada after defeating all her demons. Sometimes you just need a heroine who finds herself plunged into a fantasy world where she feels like she belongs and because of that is able to – for no explainable reason – harness a magic strong enough to take out an army.

Skimming through some of the one and two star reviews, it really struck me that though this book may stand or fall from a purely analytical nature, that isn’t what is important. It really doesn’t matter if it is predictable. It doesn’t matter if the heroine is like “all other heroines” with her ability to learn how to fight within weeks when she has no previous training or that she has a cool horse or an amazing sword and “all fantasy heroines must have that”. That’s part of the appeal. Because this doesn’t have to be a teaching manual for original, creative stories. This doesn’t have to be a book that entertains adults. This doesn’t have to have flowing, beautiful prose. There are plenty of books out there that are “original” and “well written” and totally stink. There are hundreds of books that may fit every criteria for excellence and yet have never encouraged a single reader.

The Blue Sword may actually be the first book I would unhesitatingly characterize as “Young Adult.” The themes are a little too complicated for Grade school and Middle school. The plot is a little too predictable for adult readers. But for those magical, tumultuous, confusing, and hassling years of high school…this is a book in its element. One of the one star reviewers complained that the heroine “marries her abductor” and how that was undermining strong womanhood, etc. etc. Well, guess what? That’s romantic in this story. It’s not morbid. It’s fun. It’s the idea of adventure and romance and finding yourself in a situation so unlike your own you shine. That’s what the young bookworm in the corner dreams of. You can’t try and be “rational”. Allow her to dream.

The Blue Sword may not be a book I continue to re-read and re-read for some remarkable plot line or terrific characterizations or great life lesson. It is the sort of book I will have on my shelves someday, however. It is the sort of book I will put in the hands of my daughters someday when they become teenagers. It is the sort of book I recommend, not for its greatness, but for its simple spirit. Ultimately it is the fulfillment Neil Gaiman’s misquote G.K. Chesterton:

“Fairy tales are more than true — not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.”

 


A Murder For Her Majesty

Why did I pick up A Murder For Her Majesty by Beth Hilgartner originally? I can’t remember. It wasn’t because of Battle of the Books – I was the who recommended it. It wasn’t because it was a Sonlight reader, the book was a favorite of mine long before it was a school read aloud for my family. It wasn’t read as a backlash for all the inappropriate and horrible books I was finding in the Young Adult section either. I read it even before that.

It was probably the title that drew me in, or the promise of a historical mystery. It could have been the binding, or the smell, or any number of things. Possibly it was simply those first few words. Why was a young girl wandering around lost and hungry? Would she find the cathedral? Who was the scamp that knocked her over? And so on and so on as the story drew me. I realize now what talented writing that is, to immediately draw the reader in and tug on their sympathy for a character. That is the sign of a good writer. It is the sign of a good book.

Plot

11-year-old Alice Tuckfield witnessed her Father’s murder. It was done in the name of the queen. Fearful for her life and expecting no justice, she flees to Yorkshire in the hopes of finding a protector but her Father’s old friend is gone. Instead, she meets up with a group of mischievous choirboys who decide to disguise her as a boy and sneak her into the choir. With a beautiful voice and good nature, young “Allister” quickly becomes a favorite but it also makes her a target. Her Father’s murderers are also in Yorkshire and their mission is to find and silence the daughter that got away.

Literary Love

Ooooh, I love this book. I have often heard people say they envy someone reading a particularly favorite book ‘for the first time’ but I definitely don’t feel that way with A Murder For Her Majesty. I loved it for the characters and story when I was younger. I love it more now because, like an old friend, it has been around for awhile and my appreciation expands with every interaction. It is when you have a healthy appreciation for what bad is that you can fully appreciate good.

And A Murder For Her Majesty is good.

If there is one thing I gained in perspective beginning this review, it is an even healthier respect for the writing. It blends. It beats. It draws the reader in, tugs their heart. We sense Alice’s fears but aren’t drowned in them. All the characters have fairly well rounded personalities and quirks that make them memorable and likable…..or despicable if it is a villain. There is a good contrast between the Bad Guys and the Good Guys.

It is hard to find a good role model for girls in books today. I am not saying it’s impossible. But it is hard. Especially once you get to the Young Adult section of a library. In fact, at that point it is almost impossible. For mothers trying to find wholesome heroines for their middle school daughters, you can’t really go wrong with Alice Tuckfield. She’s believable, mischievous, and experiences character growth. She doesn’t disguise herself as a boy to prove to the world that guys and girls are equal or anything. She’s just an 11-year-old girl and her natural, comfortable relationship with the choir boys is a great buddy story. No love triangles, inappropriate language, or scenes to put a young reader to the blush. However, it is also not a childish mystery. Alice really is in danger.The setting is historical. This isn’t Nancy Drew and the Missing Tennis Shoes. However, it is a far cry from the usual “teenage” fare. What I mean is this, for young readers who want more than the Juvenile Fiction but aren’t ready to brave the Teen Section quite yet, this is a good read.

The characters are, appealing, fun, and creative. They are well developed. They immediately become a young reader’s best friends. I say that because I about to introduce to you possibly one of my favorite literary characters of all time: Geoffrey Fisher.

He’s the one who comes up with the idea originally to sneak Alice into the choir. He’s hilarious, mischievous, and loyal to the core. He’s very colorful. I got in trouble in school one time because every time I had to write a character bio for class I’d write it on him. Finally after I turned in my third character sketch of Geoffrey Fisher my Mom decided enough was enough and I was banned from using him again!

I just discovered this blog post on him and you should read it. It’s amazing. http://www.notebooksisters.com/2013/06/a-murder-for-her-majesty-why-geoffrey.html It also sums up something really true. It’s hard to precisely pinpoint what makes Geoffrey so awesome. I mean, he’s funny and loyal but it isn’t back-story that makes him brilliant. It isn’t some super-power or extreme act. He’s a side character. A side character in one novel. It’s not like you follow him for a series (oh how awesome that would be!) The key, though, is that he is an individual. You never doubt it for a moment. That scene where he does the Highland Fling is probably one of my all time favorites in literary history. It’s not a great battle or amazing stunt. It’s Geoffrey in a nutshell. A perfectly random and yet warm gesture of awesomeness.

Character development, plot line, writing…it’s a good mix in this book. This isn’t To Kill A Mockingbird or some other profound classic. It does not have to be. Being a bookworm who loves reading, this is simply  that. A good book that remains faithfully enjoyable even as I get older. I seem to use the word wholesome a lot but I like it. So many books are trashy that a novel with development and good characters is a treat.


The Sherwood Ring

Better than Christmas, birthdays, and the 4th of July combined is that day when the new Sonlight school books arrive. The semester has yet to begin. Summer still remains and math has not managed to make our lives miserable yet. The books still smell new. New read alouds, new readers, and new history books. An entire semester of good fiction ahead. Ahhhh, it’s a glorious feeling for a bookworm.

It was not long after one of these particularly magical days that I picked up The Sherwood Ring by Elizabeth Marie Pope for the first time. It was just too tempting. The synopsis sounded so good and the cold basement made for an excellent place to avoid the sun (my favorite pastime in the summer). ‘Twas love at first read. It’s an exciting romp, a creative and imaginative story, and easily stands as one of my favorite books. It was our read aloud a few weeks later and a re-read over and over for me from that day on.

Plot:
Side note, The Sherwood Ring, alas if you are like me and immediately associate the two, has nothing to do with Sherwood Forrest or Robin Hood, but it has just about everything else. Colonial spies, intrigue, mystery, love!
Newly orphaned Peggy Graham has spent her entire life ‘staying out of the way’. When her Father’s dies, she is sent to live with her Uncle at the family estate of  RestandBeThankful. Almost immediately she is caught off-guard by the strange place: a mysterious young woman, the strange behavior of her uncle, and the handsome young historian who befriends her. Her adventure is only just beginning, though. RestandBeThankful is haunted. Not by your typical ghost-in-chains, but by revolutionary era family members! Through their narratives, Peggy finds herself plunged into a hundred year old mystery and romance, involving the indomitable Richard, the spunky Eleanor, the spirited Barbara, and the clever British spy, Peaceable Sherwood.  As each character takes a turn relating their story, the plot builds and Peggy begins to realize that  RestandBeThankful has one last mystery to reveal…

Literary Love:
The Sherwood Ring is a great story. The historical characters are well-developed and the interchanging viewpoints flow well together. There is build and growth. While some have criticized the “modern” parts of the story, I think the Revolutionary parts make up for anything. Richard and Eleanor and Barbara and Peaceable are like old friends. Peggy’s lonesomeness and self-reliance is well formed and the shrewd laziness of Peaceable Sherwood is reminiscent of all the best heroes (Sir Percy Blakeney….Mycroft Holmes*….) It’s so much fun.

It’s a cozy, comfy sort of book full of adventure and lessons about life but nothing too tedious. It makes for a good read aloud and is the sort of book guys and girls can enjoy. It is full of clever codes and situations as spies battle and wits are matched. There are so many funny little scenes tucked in the pages and enjoyable moments of dialogue or action. I love the pictures. As I sit here, I’ve stretched my mind back to think of a particular moment to share or a dialogue to post or a good scene of description, but like a good inside joke none of it makes much sense out of context. It just is. And that pretty much sums up The Sherwood Ring for me. It it is not quite comfort food, but it is close. It’s a healthy dose of fun and takes place during the Revolutionary War, one of my favorite settings. And it is. It’s a wonderful read.  It’s a must read, and a good book to nourish children on. They will learn “pride goeth before a fall” but it will be accompanied by a sense of justice and humor. It teaches young ladies to stand tall and young men to get back up again when they fall down. In the end, the girl can be won, the battle fought, and the mystery solved, it just takes effort.

So do yourself a favor and if you haven’t read The Sherwood Ring yet, go do so. And if you have, re-read it. It’s a worthy thing to fill yourself up with.

*Anna is laughing at me, so possibly Mycroft homes isn’t a ‘best hero.’ But still, he’s pretty awesome, so we’re gonna roll with it.


The Witch of Blackbird Pond

I was around 11 years old the first time Mom read The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare out loud to us. That was a good year for read-alouds. We were studying American history, and that meant Johnny Tremain, Carry On Mr Bowditch, Sign of the Beaver, and Calico Bush. My favorite, though, the book I picked up and read and re-read until I wore out our copy and had to buy a new one…that was The Witch of Blackbird Pond. It is the first book I remember reading over and over and probably remains the story I have read the most. In fact, I just re-read it. I wasn’t sure I could put words to a review. Can something so personal really be explained? 

Plot: 
For those of you who haven’t read it, The Witch of Blackbird Pond is about orphaned sixteen-year-old Kit Tyler. Raised on the beautiful island of Barbados, Kit is forced to leave her tropical home for the cold, uninviting Connecticut Colony of Wethersfield where her strict Puritan relatives don’t know what to do with her. Where once she knew silks and petticoats and the care of black slaves, she is now forced to work and wear the plain cotton dress considered appropriate to the austere population. Her only comfort is found in the meadows where the old Quaker woman, Hannah Tupper, resides. Will she ever be able to reconcile herself to the stubborn New England population, or will she return to Barbados? And when the unthinkable happens and the mob goes after Hannah as a witch, can she save her in time? And where does the mocking young sailor, Nat Eaton, fit in? 

Literary Love:
One of my favorite passages is when Kit first sees the meadows…

As they came out from the shelter of the trees and the Great Meadows stretched before them, Kit caught her breath. She had not expected anything like this. From the first moment, in a way she could never explain, the Meadows claimed her and made her their own. As far as she could see they stretched on either side, a great level sea of green, broken here and there by a solitary graceful elm. Was it the fields of sugar cane they brought to mind, or the endless reach of the ocean to meet the sky? Or was it simply the sense of freedom and space and light that spoke to her of home?…How often she would come back she had no way of foreseeing, nor could she know that never, in the months to come, would the Meadows break the promise they held for her at this moment, a promise of peace and quietness and of comfort for a troubled heart.

Go and ahead and re-read that. Form each word in your mouth. Taste it. I love the writing in this book.

I also love the characters. Hannah Tupper used to mystify me. Where did she go when the floods came and filled her little cottage by Blackbird Pond? She was homey and wonderful and more then once, I joined Kit and Prudence and Hannah on the sun-warmed floor with the kittens and blueberry cake or sat in the eaves as the roof as Kit and Nat re-thatched it. There is lots of character change, whether Kit learning to love her new homeland or her cousin Judith navigating beaus. I love Kit’s cousin Mercy. I think Nat might have been my first Favorite Literary Guy. 

More than anything, though, more than the characters and the writing…I love the time this takes place. When men and women grew up fast and worked hard. When America was tamed by colonist and their fight for the independence. I love the description of the New England men, firm rock. Uncle Matthew, John Holbrook, William Ashby, and of course Nat Eaton. They valued their independence and would not easily submit to a King’s rule, a King’s governor, or extra taxes on the land they tamed with their own hand. This is the true founding of the United States. The beginning steps that led up to Lexington and the Declaration of Independence and on and on….
All in a novel. 

It’s books like this one that prove why stories can be so powerful. There is no deeper meaning  carefully hidden in the pages, you don’t have to have a doctorate to discern the story. It’s a good novel, comforting and well-written, but it is also a young woman from Barbados, a Royalist, a total stranger coming to understand and love the spirit that tamed the colonies. It was a spirit that fed me as a girl, that formed deep within and taught me to hope and dream. It was a spirit that found strength from the novels I loved and the history I read. 

So to understand me, you have to try and understand that part of me. The reason I was probably the only high school girl with a picture of George Washington hanging above my bed instead of a favorite pop-band. The reason the Revolutionary War captures my imagination so. The reason I can get so excited over long dead philosophers like John Locke and Charles de Montesquieu. Because they wrote about freedom. I look out my window, and I see carefully paved roads, solid houses, and trees that have never felt the bite of an ax. But go a little farther and you can see the field-stone farmhouse from the 1800s where my Grandparents live and my ancestors settled many, many years ago. Go a little farther and you can see the one-room school house still standing where my relative many, many years ago taught school to the pioneer children. Go back even farther and watch as my ancestor joined in signing the Mayflower Compact. Go back farther and trace British roots and the sense of personal freedom stretching from the Magna Carta to the book of Deuteronomy and on and on. 

Patriotic is sort of a cheesy word these days. Red, white and blue. And yet it is possible for us to be patriotic because of those log cabins and the ships that traded dangerously in wind-tossed sea. It is possible for us to be patriotic because our ancestors so many years ago stood up for their rights and freedom against the King. I love The Witch of Blackbird Pond because that rock that Kit learns to lean on, that stubborn independence, that fight for liberty….that’s in my blood. Our culture may dilute it. Historians may re-write it. The well-manicured lawns outside my window may poo-poo it. But I know, deep down inside, that when the time comes, we must fight for our rights. The United States was an experiment. It was men fighting the charters of their King. And though time may lull us, the experiment is not yet over.  That is what I know, and that is why this book is so important to me. 

The Witch of Blackbird Pond