Top Ten Tuesday: Favourite Places in Literature

1. Prince Edward Island in Jane of Lantern Hill by LM Montgomery: LM Montgomery had a gift for describing the beauty of the world and the sense of home her characters had because of that beauty. Here’s one example, from Jane of Lantern Hill.

There was a tangle of sunbeams on the bare white floor. They could see the maple wood through the east window, the gulf and the pond and the dunes through the north, the harbour through the west. Winds of the salt seas were blowing in. Swallows were swooping through the evening air. Everything she looked at belonged to dad and her . . .

Dad did not always read from the masters. One day he took to the shore a thin little volume of poems by Bernard Freeman Trotter. “I knew him overseas . . . he was killed . . . listen to his song about the poplars, Jane: ‘And so I sing the poplars and when I come to die / I will not look for jasper walls but cast about my eye / For a row of wind-blown poplars against an English sky.’ What will you want to see when you get to heaven, Jane?”

“Lantern Hill,” said Jane.

2. Helstone Cottage in North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell: Margaret returns to rural Helstone after living in a smoky, crowded city and is moved by its loveliness. I had the same feeling last month on leaving bustling, wintry Hamilton to visit my parents’ farm in British Columbia. ☺

But as she returned across the common, the place was reinvested with the old enchanting atmosphere. The common sounds of life were more musical there than anywhere else in the whole world, the light more golden, the life more tranquil and full of dreamy delight.

3. The place where Aslan is in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by CS Lewis: I could barely choke out these words while reading this part of the book to my son last month.

“Please, Aslan,” said Lucy. “Before we go, will you tell us when we can come back to Narnia again? Please. And oh, do, do, do make it soon.”
“Dearest,” said Aslan very gently, “you and your brother will never come back to Narnia.”
“Oh, Aslan!” said Edmund and Lucy both together in despairing voices.
“You are too old, children,” said Aslan, “and you must begin to come close to your own world now.”
“It isn’t Narnia, you know,” sobbed Lucy. “It’s you. We shan’t meet you there. And how can we live, never meeting you?”
“But you shall meet me there, dear one,” said Aslan.
“Are – are you there, too, Sir?” asked Edmund.
“I am,” said Aslan. “But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.”

4. The Shire in The Fellowship of the Ring by JRR Tolkien: I don’t have a quote for this one, but I love the cozy English village feel of the Shire, with its tasty beer, convivial atmosphere and snug little homes with real fires burning in the fireplaces.

5. The Roman Empire in A Voice of the Wind by Francine Rivers: I’ve always found the ancient Roman Empire fascinating. This story moves from the Jerusalem temple as it’s being destroyed to the homes of barbarian warriors in remote Germania to the wealthy, pagan cities of Rome and Ephesus. Mesmerizing!

6. The High City in St. George and the Dragon by Margaret Hodges: a glittering vision of the heavenly city.

There against the evening sky they saw a mountaintop that touched the highest heavens. It was crowned with a glorious palace, sparkling like stars and circled with walls and towers of pearls and precious stones. Joyful angles were coming and going between heaven and the High City.

High City

7. The golden realm of childhood in The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot:

The two slight youthful figures soon grew indistinct on the distant road – were soon lost behind the projecting hedgerow. They had gone forth together into their new life of sorrow and they would never more see the sunshine undimmed by remembered cares. They had entered the thorny wilderness, and the golden gates of their childhood had for ever closed behind them.

8. Pemberley House in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen: the splendid building that first made Elizabeth think of what it’d be like to be Mrs. Darcy. ☺

They gradually ascended for half a mile, and then found themselves at the top of a considerable eminence, where the wood ceased, and the eye was instantly caught by Pemberley House, situated on the opposite side of a valley, into which the road with some abruptness wound. It was a large, handsome, stone building, standing well on rising ground and backed by a ridge of high woody hills; – and in front, a stream of some natural importance was swelled into greater, but without any artificial appearance. Its banks were neither formal, nor falsely adorned. Elizabeth was delighted. She had never seen a place for which nature had done more, or where natural beauty had been so little counteracted by an awkward taste. They were all of them warm in their admiration.

Yep, I can imagine myself living here . . .

Yep, I can imagine myself living here . . .

9. London in Bleak House by Charles Dickens: O London, with its sprawling never-endingness and bustling crowds of people and no end of things to see and do!

I’m linking up with the Broke & the Bookish again for Top Ten Tuesday.

Quick Lit // May 2015

northanger Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen ★★★★☆ (re-read) – up to this point in my life, I haven’t paid much attention to Henry Tilney, but he really is quite a delightful character: handsome, intellectual, witty, and forever dissecting Catherine’s choice of words (which reminds me of my husband a little). The gothic satire gives the book a funny edge, too. Not quite Pride and Prejudice or Persuasion, but a wonderfully diverting read nonetheless.

dovekeepers The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman ★★★☆☆– half fascinating, half frustrating, this novel tells the stories of four women at Masada (Herod’s fortress in Israel) in the years leading up to the Roman siege in 73 AD. Both the setting and the time period are fascinating and provide plenty of dramatic tension. However, my main beef with the book is that the author presents pagan worship of the goddess Ashtoreth as something meaningful, natural and effectual, while not one character seems to have a genuine faith in the Jewish God (prayer to him is ineffectual and escapist, his laws are oppressive, etc.). For a book about Jewish zealots fighting against Roman oppression, that’s problematic.

voyage The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by CS Lewis ★★★★★ (re-read) – Lucy and Edmund are part of this Narnian story, but the real focus is on nasty cousin Eustace who’s inadvertently drawn into Narnia and the way he changes during his time there. I found Eustace’s education in facts, facts, facts (never stories!) thought-provoking; CS Lewis keeps apologizing for his inadequacies by explaining that “of course Eustace had never heard any stories about those sorts of creatures.” The book worked perfectly as a read-aloud for my 3-year old son as nearly every chapter unveils a newly discovered island with its own peculiarities. James (my son) was spellbound by the section in which Eustace is turned into a dragon; and who of us can’t sympathize with his profound desire for friendship just when it is most unlikely.

secret The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton ★★½☆☆– the first half of this novel is quite slow, as all the pieces of the plot are being set in place; the second half is more engaging and full of surprising plots twists. Those surprises are what Kate Morton excels at – but I’m more interested in characters than an “aha!” that catches me off guard. And the characters were either unappealing (Laurel, Dorothy) or caricatures (most of the male characters) . . . which is one of my pet peeves with modern novels: why are the men in today’s books so un-masculine and un-admirable? Where’s a modern Henry Tilney when you need him?

nestingThe Nesting Place: It Doesn’t Have to be Perfect to be Beautiful by Myquillyn Smith ★★★☆☆- the second half of the title pretty much sums up the gist of this easy-to-read book on home decor. My favourite part: perusing all the photos of the author’s former homes (there are so many)!

I’m linking up with Anne at Modern Mrs. Darcy for this month’s Quick Lit; check out her blog for more mini book reviews.

Quick Lit // April 2015

PeacePeace Like a River by Leif Enger ★★★★☆– a quiet, beautifully told story of fatherhood, character and courage. This novel reminded me a lot of To Kill a Mockingbird, actually, as both involve a principled father, precocious daughter and older brother all caught up in a story of (in)justice. Swede is just as winsome as Scout; I loved her marvellous outlaw poetry and hearty appreciation of a fine turn of phrase.

FoodIt Starts With Food by Dallas and Melissa Hartwig ★★★★☆ – if you’ve been on the internet at all this past year, you’ve likely heard of the Whole 30. You know, where you cut out dairy, grains, alcohol and added sugar for 30 days? Sounds delightful, right? 🙂 My husband and I are on Day 29 and it was useful to read this book first as it gives a thorough rationale for the Whole30 program. Scientific and practical.

KimballThe Rape of the Masters: How Political Correctness Sabotages Art by Roger Kimball ★★★★☆- A scathing, often hilarious critique of the absurd flights of fancy that make up much of modern art criticism. Roger Kimball introduces the reader to several artists (Sargent, Van Gogh, Velazquez, among others) and to bizarre contemporary interpretations of their paintings. Straightforward, insightful and totally worth your while.

You Can StillYou Can Still Wear Cute Shoes by Lisa McKay ★★★☆☆- a light-hearted and practical how-to book for pastor’s wives. A group of fellow seminary wives and I read and discussed this book over several months. Not really my style (I’d have preferred something deeper), but there were some helpful pointers like: when moving, set up your child’s room first so that they feel settled.

Stuart LittleStuart Little by EB White ★★1/2☆☆- I read this with my 3-year old who didn’t seem to mind that it was more of a series of unrelated events than a cohesive story. He found it quite amusing, actually. But, being six months pregnant, I found the story of a woman giving birth to a two-inch boy that resembles a mouse downright shuddersome.


maisieMaisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear ★★★☆☆ – I’ve been in a reading funk this month; I started reading five or six books, but ended up tossing them all aside. I just couldn’t get interested! Then I picked up this one, the first in a series of mystery novels featuring Maisie Dobbs, Psychologist and Private Investigator and finished it in two days. It’s oh-so-readable – and yet left me feeling a little cold, like the characters were just a bit too starchy and careful to properly befriend.

I’m linking up with Anne of Modern Mrs. Darcy for her monthly Quick Lit feature. Head on over there to read more short and sweet book reviews.

Top Ten Tuesday: Inspiring Quotes from Books

I’m linking up with the Broke and the Bookish again for Top Ten Tuesday; this week’s meme is Inspiring Quotes from Books – which actually made me realize that my commonplace book is full of poetry quotes, but only a few quotes from books. Will have to rectify that!


“Pleased with the preference of one, and offended by the neglect of the other, on the very beginning of our acquaintance, I have courted prepossession and ignorance, and driven reason away, where either were concerned. Till this moment, I never knew myself.”
– Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

jane eyre

“I sometimes have a queer feeling with regard to you–especially when you are near me, as now: it is as if I had a string somewhere under my left ribs, tightly and inextricably knotted to a similar string situated in the corresponding quarter of your little frame. And if that boisterous Channel, and two hundred miles or so of land come broad between us, I am afraid that cord of communion will be snapt; and then I’ve a nervous notion I should take to bleeding inwardly.”
– Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre

george eliot

“There are few prophets in the world; few sublimely beautiful women; few heroes. I can’t afford to give all my love and reverence to such rarities: I want a great deal of those feelings for my everyday fellow-men, especially for the few in the foreground of the great multitude, whose faces I know, whose hands I touch, for whom I have to make way with kindly courtesy.”
– George Eliot, Adam Bede


“‘The way of humility. Ah,’ thought Margaret, ‘that is what I have missed! But courage, little heart. We will turn back and by God’s help we may find the lost path.'”
– Elizabeth Gaskell, North and South


“Emelina and I just took each other in. All morning I’d felt the strange disjuncture that comes from reconnecting with your past. There’s such a gulf between yourself and who you were then, but people speak to that other person and it answers; it’s like having a stranger as a house guest in your skin.”
– Barbara Kingsolver, Animal Dreams

aslan pic

“At the name of Aslan each one of the children felt something jump in its inside. Edmund felt a sensation of mysterious horror. Peter felt suddenly brave and adventurous. Susan felt as if some delicious smell or some delightful strain of music had just floated by her. And Lucy got the feeling you have when you wake up in the morning and realize that it is the beginning of the holidays or the beginning of summer.”
– CS Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe


“Everything had changed. Anne felt that she would be glad when the summer was over and she was away at work again. Perhaps life would not seem so empty then.
‘I’ve tried the world – it wears no more
The colouring of romance it wore’

sighed Anne – and was straightaway much comforted by the romance in the idea of the world being denuded of romance!
– LM Montgomery, Anne of the Island

jean webster

“Did you ever hear of such a discouraging series of events? It isn’t the big troubles in life that require character. Anybody can rise to a crisis and face a crushing tragedy with courage, but to meet the petty hazards of the day with a laugh – I really think that requires spirit.”
Jean Webster, Daddy Long Legs

Thoughts to Savour

There have been some wonderfully thought-provoking articles out there on the internet lately. Here are a few I really enjoyed:

I can’t remember the last time we went to see a movie in theatre, but these two reviews of Disney’s Cinderella make me think it’d be worthwhile to take my daughter if she were a little older (she’s just 16 months old).
Maleficent vs. Cinderella and the Heroes We Give Our Children: “I am, frankly, astounded that a movie as full of goodness and self-sacrifice, and truth and beauty even exists.”
Charity Has Power and How Disney Didn’t Ruin Cinderella: “And what Cinderella ends up being is a beautiful examination of the strength of virtue–a very unmodern theme.”

Hospitality and the Holy Imagination: this is quite a fascinating look at art from the perspective of hospitality. Yeah, I wondered about that intersection, too, but Zach Franzen explains his idea that artists shouldn’t be self-seeking in a clear and compelling way.

Why Fairy Tales are Dangerous: two wonderful reasons to read fairy tales to your children.

An Honest Pen: a short but provocative quote from Anthony Esolen on writing well.

Quick Lit // March 2015

I’m linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy today for Quick Lit, where we share short and sweet book reviews.

16121977Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me by Karen Swallow Prior ★★★½☆
A fusion of memoir and literary musings, Booked explores Karen Swallow Prior’s formative years through the lens of a variety of classic works ranging from Charlotte’s Web (her childhood days on her grandparents’ farm) to Jane Eyre (her awkward adolescence) and Milton’s Areopagitica (an encouragement to ‘read promiscuously’). The memoir is underwhelming, but the segments on literature make you want to scribble notes in the margins and haul out the highlighter. I found Prior’s thoughts on Charles Dickens, for example, really helpful, and her chapter on Madame Bovary is both brilliant and hilarious (the raspberry fight!).

17305016 Dreamer’s Pool by Juliet Marillier  ★★☆☆☆
A magical healer, Blackthorn, and her former prison mate, Grim, set up shop on the edge of an enchanted forest where she has agreed to help any who ask for assistance and to forego vengeance for seven years. This oh-so-predictable fantasy novel is twice as long as it needs to be, with characters each defined by a single attribute: Blackthorn is so angry, Grim is so taciturn, the Prince is so good-hearted, etc. I enjoyed Marillier’s earlier works, like the Sevenwaters series, much more than this book.

LionWardrobe3The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis (re-read) ★★★★★
Lucy enters Narnia through a wardrobe – and this is the story of what happened there. I read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe aloud to my 3-year old and we both relished every moment. He was caught up in the magic of the story and the struggle of good vs. evil; there were a lot of conversations afterwards along the line of, “Mom, can we please go to Narnia now? It’s okay to go, the White Witch is dead!” I was struck by the story’s gravity and profundity.

north-and-south-vintage-coverNorth and South by Elizabeth Gaskell (re-read) ★★★★☆
Margaret Hale moves from a rustic village in the south of England to the smoky, industrial city of Milton-North, and her assumptions about both areas are challenged by the people she meets and the situations she encounters (mill strikes, young people dying of diseases caused by their work environments, etc.). Many think of the novel as Pride and Prejudice with a social conscience; I found the change in Margaret compelling, even if the spark between her and the commanding Mr. Thornton was less fiery than that of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy.

rilla-of-ingleside-9781442490208_hrRilla of Ingleside by LM Montgomery ★★☆☆☆
The story of Anne Blythe’s youngest child, Rilla, as she grows up and falls in love during the First World War. I enjoyed parts of the book, like Rilla’s brother Walter’s struggle for courage, but found it fell flat overall. The pacing of the novel felt tedious because it depended so much on the advances and setbacks of the war, and I found the romance between Rilla and Kenneth lacklustre. I’d recommend trying pretty much any other novel by LM Montgomery before reading this one.

51fDe0NaimL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ The Search for Delicious by Natalie Babbitt ★★★★☆
Affectionate is your dog, Bulky is a big bag of boxes, and Calamitous is saying no to the king; these definitions are uncontested, but there are squabbles in the palace over which food should stand for the word ‘delicious’ in the new dictionary. Thus a young messenger is sent to poll the kingdom. A fresh and delightful fairytale adventure that’s both funny and poetic without being sentimental. Highly recommended! (And for the record, I’d vote for “Delicious is hot apple pie with a dollop of vanilla ice cream.”)

715VLP6M-OL To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee ★★★★★
The story of a white southern lawyer, Atticus Finch, defending a wrongfully accused black man, as told through the eyes of his precocious daughter, Scout. TKAM is a skillfully written book with a strong sense of place (“Somehow, it was hotter then. . . . Ladies bathed before noon, after their three-o’clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum”), but the characters who ring true are the best part of the book, especially hot-headed, independent Scout, innocent in the ways of racial prejudice; and Atticus, her thoughtful and compassionate father.

before i burnBefore I Burn by Gaute Heivoll (did not finish) – I picked up a cutely packaged book from my library for their Blind Date With a Book feature for Valentine’s Day, and ended up with this Norwegian mystery/crime novel. I’m afraid I quickly ditched the bookish blind date as there were other books in which I was much more interested.

What were your favourite reads this past month?

On Friendship, or Peculiar People

north-and-south-vintage-coverI re-read North and South recently for book club, and while I’d previously concentrated on the tumultuous relationship between Margaret Hale and Mr. Thornton, this time I found myself thinking a lot about the power of conversation and curious connection of friendship.

Especially those wonderful friendships built on meaningful conversations.

Consider this powerful passage in which Elizabeth Gaskell writes about the special bond between Margaret’s dad and Mr. Thornton. The last few sentences pierce my heart:

It was curious how the presence of Mr. Thornton had power over Mr. Hale to make him unlock the secret thoughts which he kept shut up even from Margaret . . . Whatever was the reason, he could unburden himself better to Mr. Thornton than to her of all the thoughts and fancies and fears that had been frost-bound in his brain till now. Mr. Thornton said very little, but every sentence he uttered added to Mr. Hale’s reliance and regard for him. Was it that he paused in the expression of some remembered agony, Mr. Thornton’s two or three words would complete the sentence, and show how deeply its meaning was entered into. Was it a doubt – a fear – a wandering uncertainty seeking rest, but finding none – so tear-blinded were its eyes – Mr. Thornton, instead of being shocked, seemed to have passed through that very stage of thought himself, and could suggest where the exact ray of light was to be found, which should make the dark places plain. Man of action as he was, busy in the world’s great battle, there was a deeper religion binding him to God in his heart, in spite of his strong wilfulness, through all his mistakes, than Mr. Hale had ever dreamed. They never spoke of such things again, as it happened; but this one conversation made them peculiar people to each other; knit them together, in a way which no loose indiscriminate talking about sacred things can ever accomplish. When all are admitted, how can there be a Holy of Holies?