Quick Lit // August 2015

I have not read too much since giving birth last month, but what I have read has been really good.

watershipWatership Down by Richard Adams ★★★★☆
A story about the adventures of rabbits. It’s not the most gripping premise, and I’ve avoided reading Watership Down for several years because of it. More’s the pity! This book is rich in characters, high in courage and full of delight. Richard Adams is a compelling storyteller with an eye for natural detail and lovely imagery, not to mention gripping accounts of escape from peril. A little snippet: “Now as he continued to meet the eyes of this unaccountable enemy – the only one he had faced in all the long night’s search for bloodshed – horror came upon him and he was filled with a sudden fear of his words, gentle and inexorable as the falling of bitter snow in a land without refuge.”

narnianThe Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C.S. Lewis by Alan Jacobs ★★★★☆
When C.S. Lewis reflected on when he’d been an atheist, he wrote, “On the one side a many-islanded sea of poetry and myth; on the other a glib and shallow ‘rationalism.’ Nearly all that I loved I believed to be imaginary; nearly all that I believed to be real I though grim and meaningless.” This biography is fascinating because it tells the story of Lewis’s life through the lens of his love of story (I suppose the title gives it away). Jacobs writes, “he became a Christian not through accepting a particular set of arguments but through learning to read a story the right way.” I find this so interesting! Personally, I’ve long admired C.S. Lewis for his mind. He defended the gospel very ably in Mere Christianity and his well-articulated thoughts on education left me longing for a classical education as a teenager and have encouraged my husband and I to provide a classical education for our children via homeschooling. But it was refreshing to have my conception of Lewis shuffled, to realize that his mind is first rooted in the Word.

11:22:6311/22/63 by Stephen King (Did Not Finish)
I started reading 11/22/63 just before Alice was born, and it immediately gripped me. A man’s friend tells him about a secret portal to the past, to one specific day in the past. But he tells him because he wants this man to go back in time and save the life of John F. Kennedy. There is this edge of suspense in the book that keeps growing; it formed a knot in my stomach that also kept growing. That was all well and good while I was pregnant, but I could not stand the suspense once I’d given birth. Plus, the swearing and blasphemy is profuse, to the point where I had to set the book aside.

I’m linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy today for Quick Lit. Head on over there to read more brief book reviews and add to your reading list!

It’s a Girl!

Popping onto the blog today to introduce you to the newest member of our family: Alice Genevieve!

Alice-10 copy

She’s our third child and they say ‘all bets are off’ when it comes to your third child . . . that is, don’t expect things to go like they did with your first two. James and June were both a little late (one day and five days, respectively), but Alice decided to wait till she was thirteen days overdue before making her way into the world! With both my parents visiting from BC, their hearts desiring to meet this dear little pumpkin, the pressure was on.

At 6:00AM the morning after my dad returned to BC I had my first contraction. Alice was born one hour later. Let’s just say I was incredibly glad that my mom was staying with us, so that my husband and I could simply zip out the door to the hospital without the fuss of dropping our kids off at a friend’s house – had that been the case, I’m convinced she would have been born in the van. As it was, we woke up my mom, briskly drove the three minutes to the hospital, were shown into an assessment room, then were quickly diverted to a delivery room where my water broke and the nearest available doctor popped into the room to catch Alice because the midwives were still en route.

In the words of my dear husband: “That was my kind of birth!”

James and June are completely enamoured with her:






I haven’t been blogging much the last few months, aside from monthly Quick Lit posts. That’s because I’ve been dissatisfied with the purpose of this blog. I’m not actually all that interested in reading The Top 100 Novels of All Time. I do love classic novels, and I intend to keep reading them – George Eliot’s Silas Marner and Daniel Deronda are two I’m looking forward to reading in the next while – but instead of being bound to The Guardian’s list, I’d like to pursue older classics and the occasional newer novel that spark joy. For me, that’s books that are both well written and that strengthen the moral imagination.

So from now on I’ll be using this blog more as a commonplace journal, steering away from really reviewing books (how does one review a classic anyways?) and using this space to share my personal thoughts on books I’ve read and little snippets that have spoken to me or captured my imagination.

I hope you’ll continue to enjoy the thoughts shared here!

Quick Lit // July 2015

This has been a month of change for our family; we moved temporarily to a small town in southern Ontario so my husband can complete a practicum as part of his Masters degree. And the last two weeks have been even more tumultuous, as we wait (rather impatiently) for the arrival of our third child who is currently eleven days overdue. With all the ups and downs, I haven’t read too much; nevertheless, here’s another Quick Lit post with some brief reviews. Enjoy!


garden spells Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allan ★★☆☆☆ – I chose this book from the library because it was included in Modern Mrs. Darcy’s Summer Reading Guide. It was a disappointment. Maybe my expectations for this book were unrealistic after having read marvellous works like The Mill on the Floss, but I found the characters lacked depth beyond some pop psychology (my mom left me, therefore I fear everyone will leave me) and the magical element only served to heighten the emotion of relationships (which felt like a cheap trick). Not recommended.

wisdomThe Wisdom of Father Brown by GK Chesterton ★★★★☆ – for some reason this little batch of Father Brown detective stories went over my head and at the end of each I was confused about how the mystery had been solved. Is my ready-to-have-a-baby brain particularly un-penetrating at the moment? Or are these stories just subtler than the ones found in The Innocence of Father Brown, which I both enjoyed and understood? The jury’s still out. Despite that, I still found the writing rather marvellous, and for that I give it four stars.

Madam Bovary*Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert ★★★★☆ – now this was quite the story! The basic plot: a young woman gets caught up in a little romance and marries a doctor, only to find herself disappointed in love. The culprit for her lofty expectations? Books. Says Emma Bovary: “I adore stories that rush breathlessly along, that frighten one. I detest commonplace heroes and moderate sentiments, such as there are in Nature.” That right there is what I found so fascinating about the book: there’s this chasm between what Emma desires and what is found in real life. Her husband is happy because the simple things of life charm him: “a meal together, a walk in the evening on the high road, a gesture of her hands over her hair, the sight of her straw hat hanging from the window-fastener, and many another thing in which Charles had never dreamed of pleasure, now made up the endless round of his happiness.” But Emma can’t stand the mundane things of life, and it makes her miserable. The story’s a tragedy, but a true and moving one. (The four stars is for the particular translation I read, which was at times clunky and confusing.)

christyChristy by Catherine Marshall ★★★½☆ – the story of a young schoolteacher from the city who moves to a remote mountain village in Tennessee to teach sixty-seven (!!) uneducated students. I found the depiction of rural mountain life and society in the early 1900s captivating, especially some of the hand-me-down foibles of Scottish immigrants, like illiterate parents who believe Latin is integral to their children’s education. Totally fascinating! But Christy’s condescending attitude towards the women in Cutter Gap and about motherhood in particular was grating after a while; it would do her good to meet with GK Chesterton for some perspective:

“How can it be a large career to tell other people’s children about the Rule of Three, and a small career to tell one’s own children about the universe? How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone, and narrow to be everything to someone? No. A woman’s function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute.”

birds pardonable-lies-225Birds of a Feather (Maisie Dobbs #2) and Pardonable Lies (Maisie Dobbs #3) by Jacqueline Winspear ★★☆☆☆– the second and third Maisie Dobbs books are improvements on the first; the stories are not as tidily linear, and the mysteries Maisie untangles are more complex and interesting. But the Buddhist/new age climate is also stronger, as are the modern liberal sentiments on practices like homosexuality. I can’t say I’m interested in reading any further in the series.

Have you read any of these books? What did you think of them?

Quick Lit // June 2015

It’s time once again for Quick Lit, a recap of what I’ve been reading this past month. Here we go . . .

InnocenceThe Innocence of Father Brown by G.K. Chesterton ★★★★☆– a collection of mysteries solved by a Catholic priest with a flair for detective work (the book jacket explains it this way: Father Brown has a “highly developed understanding of the criminal mind, derived from the hours he has spent listening to the penitent confessing their sins”). Engaging, enjoyable and so articulate – like Evelyn Waugh, Chesterton has a remarkable ability to find exactly the right word to use!

MillThe Mill on the Floss by George Eliot ★★★★★ – this book is a feast for the mind and the heart, the sort you mull over and contemplate for weeks. At its heart, it’s the story of a brother and sister growing up – Tom, with his rigid sense of justice and desire to set aright his father’s failures, and Maggie, with her brilliant mind and passionate, love-hungry soul. George Eliot excels in understanding human nature, appreciating beauty and reading the human heart. The best book I’ve read this year!

Ocean_at_the_End_of_the_Lane_US_CoverThe Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman ★★½☆☆– a brief story of a middle-aged man fleetingly remembering the nightmarish events of his childhood. The protagonist’s forgetfulness and the nightmare both left me feeling helpless and I can’t stand feeling that way when reading a book! Easy to read and highly creepy, if you like that sort of thing, but frustratingly lacking a satisfying resolution.

what-matters-in-jane-austen-john-mullan-2013-x-2001What Matters in Jane Austen? Twenty Crucial Puzzles Solved by John Mullan ★★★★☆– author John Mullan examines all sorts of interesting tidbits in Jane Austen’s novels, such as what makes characters blush, what characters read, why her plots rely on blunders and the right and wrong ways to propose marriage. Fascinating and illuminating, it’s the sort of book that makes you realize afresh the literary prowess of Jane Austen. It was wonderful to read right after finishing Northanger Abbey last month.

RebeccaRebecca of Sunnybrook Farm by Kate Douglas Wiggin ★★★☆☆– an enjoyable coming-of-age story with an endearing heroine, Rebecca, whose heart is moved by beauty and stirred by poetry. Very Anne of Green Gables-esque with its classroom dramas and small-town spectacles. The multiple Mill on the Floss references were an unexpected bonus.🙂 I wish the story had had a few more chapters, though; the novel concludes with an unfinished air that leaves one looking for a sequel (there isn’t one, just a companion novel that fills in some more details about Rebecca’s childhood).

I’m linking up with Anne of Modern Mrs. Darcy again today; head on over to her blog for more brief book reviews!

Pearl: On What Makes a Good Writer

Girl Writing

“I am afraid I shall never get education enough to make a good writer.”

“You could worry about plenty of other things to better advantage,” said Miss Maxwell a little scornfully. “Be afraid, for instance, that you won’t understand human nature; that you won’t realise the beauty of the outer world; that you may lack sympathy, and thus never be able to read a heart; that your faculty of expression may not keep pace with your ideas – a thousand things, every one of them more important to the writer than the knowledge that is found in books.”
– Kate Douglas Wiggin, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm

(Painting: “A Girl Writing” by Henriette Brown)

Top Ten Tuesday: Books That Made You Cry

This week’s topic is “Top Ten Most Anticipated Releases for the Rest of 2015” but since I’m not hugely into contemporary fiction, and am not even aware of any particular books that are going to be released for the rest of the year, I thought I’d tackle an older topic instead.

Books that made you cry.

That seems wildly appropriate at the moment, as I’m 36.5 weeks pregnant and getting teary over all sorts of things lately, like sweet photos of my nieces and nephew cuddling together (understandable) and my husband recounting a scene from ’90s comedy he watched the other night (downright silly). So a good book with a couple anguishing scenes is sure to turn on the waterworks these days.

Let’s do this, then!

1. The Midwife by Jennifer Worth
The Midwife I re-read half this marvellous book when I was pregnant with my daughter and could not finish it for the heart-wrenching stories of women in such difficult situations. The East End of London after the second World War was apparently a hardscrabble place to live; but the hard hearts of people on top of the lack of work, housing and food left me flooding my pillow with tears.

2. Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery
Anne of Green GablesI love everything about Anne of Green Gables, and one thing that LM Montgomery shows so well is that when we open our hearts to love, we also open our hearts to the pain of loss and death. The chapter “The Bend in the Road” breaks my heart every time I re-read this lovely story.

3. The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot
MillWho could but weep reading these tortured, impassioned words of Stephen Guest? “Perhaps they have told you some such fable about me. Perhaps they tell you I have been ‘travelling.’ My body has been dragged about somewhere; but I have never travelled from the hideous place where you left me . . . Maggie! Whose pain can have been like mine? Whose injury is like mine? Who besides me has met that long look of love that has burnt itself into my soul, so that no other image can come there?” If a brief letter can say so much, imagine what the whole of the novel will do to a reader.

4. The Last Sin Eater by Francine Rivers
Last Sin EaterIf there is one thing that makes me cry in a book, it is the raw heartache of fraught relationships between parents and children. This book is mostly about social divisions that form when the gospel is brought to a tiny Appalachian village, but it begins with a lot of soul-rubbing bitterness between a grieving mother and daughter.

5. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Jane_Eyre_book_coverAnother book that gets me every time. Every word in Jane Eyre is powerful and full of passion – and Jane’s agony when she discovers that Mr. Rochester has deceived her is excruciating.


6. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
gone with the windGone with the Wind gave me my first ‘literary hangover.’ I sobbed my way through the end of the novel and languished for days after finishing it, heartsick over Scarlett’s dreadful, callous selfishness, wondering how a person could care so little for the people in her life. A tearful hour describing Scarlett and Rhett’s relationship and the ending of the novel to my husband finally purged the hangover away, but left me timid about re-reading this wonderful novel again any time soon.

7. Little Women by Louisa May AlcotLittle Women
I’m sure I can’t have been the only one who was emotionally devastated when Jo refused Laurie’s proposal!