Tuesday, November 7, 2017

This Victorian Life by Sarah A. Chrisman --- Book Review


Book Description (from Goodreads): "Part memoir, part micro-history, this is an exploration of the present through the lens of the past. We all know that the best way to study a foreign language is to go to a country where it's spoken, but can the same immersion method be applied to history? How do interactions with antique objects influence perceptions of the modern world? From Victorian beauty regimes to nineteenth-century bicycles, custard recipes to taxidermy experiments, oil lamps to an ice box, Sarah and Gabriel Chrisman decided to explore nineteenth-century culture and technologies from the inside out. Even the deepest aspects of their lives became affected, and the more immersed they became in the late Victorian era, the more aware they grew of its legacies permeating the twenty-first century. Most of us have dreamed of time travel, but what if that dream could come true? Certain universal constants remain steady for all people regardless of time or place. No matter where, when, or who we are, humans share similar passions and fears, joys and triumphs. In her first book, Victorian Secrets, Chrisman recalled the first year she spent wearing a Victorian corset 24/7. In This Victorian Life, Chrisman picks up where Secrets left off and documents her complete shift into living as though she were in the nineteenth century."

This is the kind of book I really love and, in fact, this was one of the most interesting books I've read in a long time. However, the author's attitude was a big turn off for me. In several cases throughout the book, Chrisman discusses some of the negative attention they receive for living an out-of-the-norm lifestyle. Granted, this is part of her describing their reality so I wasn't irritated that she brought it up, I was more annoyed by her attitude about it when I thought about my own experience. When I opened up Facebook the next day to find another article on them based solely around the fact that people are mean to the Chrismans, it just rubbed me the wrong way.

 I, too, live an out-of-the-norm lifestyle. I have nine children whom I homeschool. I choose to wear long skirts and long hair and remain unemployed. I drive an enormous van. People stare and lift a finger to count when we drive by. I get all kinds of snotty comments, rude questions, and invasions on my privacy and lifestyle. What I've found over the years is my defensive actions and snotty comments back only feed the fire. The meaner I am back to people like this, the more attention I give them, the worse it is for me. Once I started holding my head high and refusing to apologize for my choices, I was amazed at how people started complimenting and encouraging us. All that to say, when all I see on this couple is them complaining to the media about not being accepted in a society that promotes diversity, (a phrase she repeats on multiple occasions in her narrative) it lowers my esteem for them quite a bit. In Victorian society, one conformed to the norm or one was ostracized by every so-called decent member of society. I guess what I'm trying to say is if one is going to take the road less traveled, one must be prepared for the opposition. Discussing the disappointment privately is appropriate---complaining to the media and expecting people to conform to what suits you is not. (See Butchart Gardens story).

 Now on to the less-bad bits. Besides all the atheistic or pantheistic nods to humanism, macro-evolution, and other ridiculous notions, the author presented herself as an intelligent woman. For the most part, the narrative was well-written. In fact, I had a long discussion with my husband about how publishers and editors really need to hold authors to a higher standard concerning grammar and subject matter. Almost everything I read nowadays is dumbed down to the level of a fourth grader. One would argue that this is the reading level of the average American adult in these times---I would argue back that rising standards usually result in those who will rise up to meet them. Chrisman is obviously well-read---her voice makes that clear. I was encouraged to seek out some of the earlier novels and nonfictions in hopes of finding other intelligently written material. In fact, I'm off to my favorite used book store this morning to do that very thing. 

Regarding the editing and photography---part of me wants to say the book could do with some serious editing and professional photography; part of me finds it endearing that she would have a friend do her photos. She obviously looks very joyful and at peace in her photos---something she may not have done with a more professional set up invading her space. As for editing, I always blame that on the publishing company. They're being hired and trusted to present her in the best light---authors must hold paid editors to a higher standard.

 I admire the Chrismans' research on so many things: the Hershey's company, cycling, and some very interesting bits regarding the regulation of time and why timepieces are made with jewels. I'd always wondered about some of these things and Chrisman does an excellent job explaining the whys. I loved all her talk of settings as we are from the Pacific Northwest and enjoyed a brief spell of living in Skagit County near Deception Pass and the Chuckanut Drive that she describes. I know this area well and was able to imagine all the places she described. We spent a lovely morning in her town of Port Townsend, one day about seven years ago, admiring the Victorian homes on our way to pick up our Yorkie.

 I think the thing that just left a sour taste in my mouth was how the author presented herself. Besides the previously mentioned issues, there were a few times when I thought she was either seriously exaggerating a situation or she was just an awfully snobbish and self-righteous boor. She has a way of making others "less learned" than she seem like pitiful simpletons. When describing a memory of ladies chatting about cell phones in a restaurant, she actually describes herself running from the table and spewing her tea into a bathroom sink because she was laughing so hard at their ignorance. Either she is an absolutely obnoxious and immature human being or she has a vivid imagination. Either way, nothing disfavors someone in my eyes more than snobbish, know-it-all behaviour.

 On a positive note, my good opinion once lost is not lost forever so within ten minutes of finishing the book, I had purchased her previous book, Victorian Secrets and it should be arriving before the week is out. The good and useful definitely outweighed the annoying with this one and I'm looking forward to reading more about this unique and beautiful life the Chrismans are building together.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

After Acts by Bryan Litfin -- Book Review

Book Description: "If you’ve ever wondered what happened to the biblical characters after Acts—from the well-known Matthew to the lesser-known Bartholomew—then this book is for you. Join Dr. Bryan Litfin as he guides you through Scripture and other ancient literature to sift fact from fiction, real-life from legend. "

Whew! I wanted to finish one last book for June and I've finished this one with 40 minutes to spare!

I was immediately intrigued by the timeline at the beginning of this book, and once I began to read it, I realized this will make a great study book for the teens during our Bible time.

I had mixed reactions to the different stories in this book. The stories of the four gospel writers didn't really contain a whole lot of new-to-me information. Others, like those of Mary, Thomas, and Paul, were really informative and interesting. The report card at the end of each chapter seemed odd and out of place. Why is the author grading the individuals based on the veracity of rumors about them? It was just a weird addition.

 Even with the interesting information offered on several of the figures, I didn't feel there were enough answers given on any of the characters to fit the promise on the back of the book, "Learn what really happened to your favorite characters."

Something else that drove me mad is the author's use of weird terms like "Johannine", "Marian", and "Petrine." Nobody talks like that in a book written for the average Joe. Because the rest of the book is written for the average Joe, these "scholarly" adjectives were way out of place.

 Overall the information was interesting---but don't get too excited. Aside from a couple assumed exceptions, the book doesn't really give any concrete answers at all.

I received this book from Moody Publishing in exchange for my honest review. 
All opinions are my own.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Early Summer Reading Review

I've done quite a bit of reading so far this summer---some books were really life-changing, some just sort of meh. Here's a look at a few that didn't quite make "full blog post" status.


A Flaw in the Blood by Stephanie Barron

From Amazon: "The acclaimed author of the bestselling Jane Austen mysteries brings an enthralling new suspense novel centered around Queen Victoria and a secret so dangerous, it could topple thrones. Irish barrister Patrick Fitzgerald has been summoned by the Queen. For on this chilly night, her beloved husband, Prince Albert, lies dying. With her future clouded by grief, Fitzgerald can’t help but notice the Queen is curiously preoccupied with the past. Yet why, and how he can help, is unclear. His bewilderment deepens when the royal coach is violently overturned, nearly killing him and his ward, Dr. Georgiana Armistead. Soon the pair find themselves hunted. Little do they know they each carry within their past hidden clues to a devastating royal secret…one they must untangle if they are to survive." 

The implications in this work of fiction angered and disgusted me. I'm so disappointed in this author whom I've previously enjoyed reading and whom I assumed had a love and respect for British history. It seems her purpose here was to defame the memory of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert and she did so ruthlessly.

Don't get me wrong, everything I've ever heard or read about Queen Victoria does not cast her in a good light. She seemed to be a self-centered, controlling woman and didn't appear to be very sentimental or compassionate toward her children. However, an older English friend of mine says differently and, being how it's her actual history in question, I try to give her the benefit of the doubt.


****Spoilers ahead****


The idea that Victoria being an illegitimate child offers the best reason for her son's hemophilia is a 19th century rumor that has long been dispelled by those who have thought it through logically and scientifically. A quote from Wikipedia states:

"Although an individual's haemophilia can usually be traced in the ancestry, in about 30% of cases there is no family history of the disorder, and the condition is speculated to be the result of spontaneous mutation in an ancestor.[2] Victoria's appears to have been a spontaneous or de novo mutation and she is usually considered the source of the disease in modern cases of haemophilia among her descendants. Queen Victoria's father, Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, was not a haemophiliac, and the probability of her mother having had a lover who suffered from haemophilia is minuscule given the low life expectancy of 19th-century haemophiliacs. Her mother, Victoria, Duchess of Kent, was not known to have a family history of the disease, although it is possible that she was a carrier but among her children only Victoria received the mutated copy. The rate of spontaneous mutation is known to increase with paternal age, and Victoria's father was 51 at her birth."

Furthermore, to suggest that Albert was suicidal is preposterous. There's nothing in history to legitimately suggest this, and the author has skewed history in an even more disgusting way by further "revealing" whom was actually (fictionally) to blame for his death. I just couldn't believe it when I read this one implicating line: "I had to put him down like a sick dog."

I'm all for a great historical mystery but to besmirch the names of respected people from history is low. How much greater it would have been to write a story line in which these characters shine brighter than history records. That would have been a story worth reading. 

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
Book Description: "Wide Sargasso Sea, a masterpiece of modern fiction, was Jean Rhys’s return to the literary center stage. With Wide Sargasso Sea, her last and best-selling novel, she ingeniously brings into light one of fiction’s most fascinating characters: the madwoman in the attic from Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. This mesmerizing work introduces us to Antoinette Cosway, a sensual and protected young woman who is sold into marriage to the prideful Mr. Rochester. Rhys portrays Cosway amidst a society so driven by hatred, so skewed in its sexual relations, that it can literally drive a woman out of her mind.”
I had a difficult time liking much of anything about this story. Madness, drunkenness, selfishness---there just wasn't a character I particularly liked. I thought the story would make me feel compassion for Jane Eyre's madwoman in the attic, but I've come away feeling strangely indifferent toward her.
The way this is written is beyond irritating with the narrator switching back and forth with no warning. I also felt there was a ton of unnecessary dialogue---especially between Rochester and Christophine near the end.

This was a 1001 Book though, so I was happy to be able to cross another off my list. After I got through it, I realized that I think I actually had started this about 10 years ago and abandoned it. Yay me for slogging through...


Clover: The Tragic Love Story of Clover and Henry Adams and Their Brilliant Life in America's Gilded Age by Otto Friedrich
When writing his autobiography in the late 1800s, Henry Adams, grandson of the former Presidents Adams, made no mention of his beloved wife of 13 years, Clover. Because the Adams' have gone down in history as having enjoyed an idyllic marriage before Clover was suddenly driven to suicide in 1885, author Otto Friedrich was determined to find out what went wrong.

Like many works of nonfiction that attempt to center on too narrow a topic, this book was filled to the brim with a lot of extra "stuff". One would think that a biography of a historical figure could surely fill up 350-odd pages, but there really isn't a lot of interesting information on record regarding Clover. The information presented in this book that pertains to her personally could have filled a magazine article. The information about her husband and others that directly affected the "tragic love story and their brilliant life" could have filled an essay. The subtitle for this book should really be something much more broad. Something like: "Clover: The tragic story of the Adams' and every person they could have had the slightest conversation with or even knowledge of during America's Gilded Age."

Since I've been on a 19th century reading rampage the last couple of years, I didn't mind so much, but there really isn't a whole lot in here about Clover, herself. The timeline switched around a lot---back and forth between different generations---so that was frustrating, especially since there were so many different Charles', Henrys, Abigails, and Adams', in general. The author also repeated information and even entire quotes, especially in the last 150 pages or so.

I didn't come away liking Henry very well. In their courting days, he seemed embarrassed that he was in love with Clover. After her death, he reminded me of someone I know well of the same age---that wandering, depressed, self-preserving person with whom every conversation is full of irritating, self-deprecating humor. The regretting personality of someone who has experienced great loss and is not entirely blameless.

Still, there were endearing moments. The Adams' seemed to have a true love and deep respect for one another. It was fun to read about their honeymoon discoveries in London: seeing "Whistler's Mother" at its debut and buying a "photographic apparatus".  I also like the stories of how they worked together toward common goals, like when Clover distracted the Spanish archivist so Henry could do his clandestine research.  I imagine her loss was more devastating than Henry could find words for---I suppose I shouldn't judge too harshly his lack of sentimentality.

Because her suicide was mentioned very early on, I kept looking for signs of mental illness in her character but finding none. At the beginning of her last year, even, I found it hard to believe this woman would take her own life so soon. I have a hard time believing it was only the despair of losing her father that drove her to suicide. Either there was more or the author made her out to be a much stronger and more level-headed woman than she really was.

What have you read this summer?

Saturday, June 17, 2017

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson -- Book Review


Wow---so much great information and so many emotions to deal with! 

I've been on a Victorian/Edwardian literature kick for a couple years now so when I saw this on paperbackswap.com, I had to request it---even though gory murder is just not my thing. I love reading about America's Gilded Age and one event that really defines this time in our history is the Chicago World's Fair. 

This book is really two stories in one. One track features every single detail you could ever want to know about the planning, building, executing, and aftermath of the Fair. The second track is the story of a lunatic murderer and how he was able to gruesomely kill LOTS of people right under the noses of authorities who were too wrapped up in the Fair's events to notice.

It's shocking how many crimes were committed due to the ease of being anonymous. While today's process of registering, confirming, double-checking, etc. of ID infuriates me sometimes, this story has given me an appreciation for the practice of making sure people really are who they say they are. The stories of Holmes' victims were so sad---many naive women who came to Chicago with such hope. It just blows my mind that police had little or no suspicions about him for as long as they did. It makes me worry about my own daughter who is getting ready to step out into independence.

The story of the Fair took awhile to really get in to. I enjoyed it much more once people and exhibits began arriving. Many of my 19th century favorites made an appearance: Houdini, Tesla, Edison, and Helen Keller---who doesn't show up very often in modern literature. There were also some neat notes and stories about the origin of the Pledge of Allegiance, pancake mix, the zipper, the Ferris Wheel, and more. Several things surprised me---like the limits and penalties for photography. 

These were stories that will definitely stick with me for a long time. 

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak -- Book Review


It's been almost 10 years since my sweet BookCrossing friend, dg7500, gifted me with this book. A lot of crazy life has happened in between---including the birth of four more children, my husband entering and graduating college, six moves (one cross country), and more. I'm staying with my mom in Oregon for the summer and discovered this book in a box of things she was storing for me in her basement. I brought it upstairs to be added to the summer TBR shelf I was building in my attic bedroom.

A few weeks later, I joined a swap on Swap-Bot which required my swapping partner to pick my next book from my Goodreads TBR list. For the swap, I am to read a book, write a 1-2 page review, and send it to my partner---all before the end of June. I listed 25 books on my TBR shelf, this one included, not thinking about the fact that this novel is 552 pages long. Sure enough, this was the one my partner chose---and I had a little freakout at the thought of reading only one book this month.

Suffice it to say, my fears were unfounded. I began this book less than 48 hours ago and have done very little else since then but consume it. 200 pages in one sitting, 200 pages in another. Then I forced myself to shower. Then another 80 pages. Then sleep. Then the last 70 pages in less than an hour before I could begin my day.

From the cover: "'It's just a small story really, about, among other things: a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist fighter, and quite a lot of thievery....'

Narrated by Death, Markus Zusak's groundbreaking new novel is the story of Liesel Meminger, a young foster girl living outside of Munich in Nazi Germany. Liesel scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she discovers something she can't resist--books. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor's wife's library, where they are to be found.

With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, Liesel learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids, as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement. Markus Zusak has crafted an unforgettable novel about the ability of books to feed the soul."

The first and most important thing I'd like to say about this story is the last thing I wrote down---the truth I realized less than 20 pages from the end. That is, history's propaganda is still telling us the Germans murdered the Jews. 70 years after the holocaust, many Americans hold a muted grudge against the Germans. We hear the word and we immediately think Hitler and we bristle. Today's propaganda tells us the Muslims are terrorists. We hear Muslim and we immediately think ISIS and our hate boils over.

The truth is that the Germans who murdered the Jews were extremists. They did not accurately represent the whole of Germany's attitude toward the persecuted. And so, so much was accepted out of fear. It is so sad how many Germans, like Liesel's father, likely had a desire to help but felt they couldn't because of the repercussions of being a "Jew lover". I don't need to explain how this all parallels current events.

"The sun was blond and the endless atmosphere was a giant blue eye." How many in our younger generations won't understand this symbolism as we butcher history's truths? This is a story that still needs to be told.

Beginning the book, I wasn't at all sure what to think. Should I keep reading? Am I going to be able to handle this? The story is narrated by Death, but he's not a mean or evil entity---just an inevitable one. In fact, I began to feel sympathetic for "Death" by the end of the book. The opening tragedy hit me hard as it parallels a personal tragedy and the separation of Liesel's family mirrored some of my own fears while my kids and I are separated from my husband by 1,800 miles right now. {We're in Oregon visiting my mom for the summer---he's in Arkansas working.}

The story quickly pulled me in with phrases like, "burning words were torn from their sentences."

One beautiful thing about this story was the way in which the author approached such horrific subject matter. Told mainly from the perspective of preteens, I was able to see the beauty of the German people and the goodness of humanity. There was a lot of innocence in this story. "Death" would offer a foreshadowing phrase or event and I'd think the worst was coming...but then it wouldn't be at all what I thought. This says a lot about me...

I loved this quote about knowing the ending of a story but reading it anyway: "It's the machinations that wheel us there that aggravate, perplex, interest, and astound me."

This book changed me. I am so grateful.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

The New York Times: Footsteps: From Ferrante's Naples to Hammett's San Francisco, Literary Pilgrimages Around the World -- Book Review



From the Publisher: "A curated collection of the New York Times' travel column, "Footsteps," exploring iconic authors' relationships to landmarks and cities around the world. Based on the popular New York Times travel column, Footsteps is an anthology of literary pilgrimages, exploring the geographic muses behind some of history's greatest writers. From the "dangerous, dirty and seductive" streets of Naples, the setting for Elena Ferrante's famous Neapolitan novels, to the "stone arches, creaky oaken doors, and riverside paths" of Oxford, the backdrop for Alice's adventures in Wonderland, Footsteps takes a fresh approach to literary tourism, appealing to readers and travel enthusiasts alike."

The past few years have found me increasingly interested in travel stories as I've had the opportunity to step out into the world a little myself. Footsteps, a collection of travel essays centered around the homes and haunts of literature "greats", started out interesting, even though I was unfamiliar with a few of the writers. I enjoyed learning about these figures and their places in the world. After awhile though, the stories became more tedious as the writers became more and more obscure. 

Ironically, it was the story of Mark Twain that was my favorite; a writer I vowed years ago to never read after discovering the horrid things he said about Jane Austen. I feel there was a striking imbalance between writers who contributed positivity and decency to the world and those who prattled off drink and sex-fueled mumblings. Overall, I was not super impressed with this collection.

Blogging for Books gifted me with a free copy in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Age of Edison by Ernest Freeberg -- Book Review

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. So much more than I thought I would...and so much that I could probably start from the beginning right now and read the whole thing through again. There was so much to learn and imagine and I know I missed a lot being distracted by surgery and a move. I will definitely be keeping it in my collection to go back to from time to time.

From Amazon: "The late nineteenth century was a period of explosive technological creativity, but more than any other invention, Thomas Edison’s incandescent light bulb marked the arrival of modernity, transforming its inventor into a mythic figure and avatar of an era. In The Age of Edison, award-winning author and historian Ernest Freeberg weaves a narrative that reaches from Coney Island and Broadway to the tiniest towns of rural America, tracing the progress of electric light through the reactions of everyone who saw it and capturing the wonder Edison’s invention inspired. It is a quintessentially American story of ingenuity, ambition, and possibility in which the greater forces of progress and change are made by one of our most humble and ubiquitous objects."

The advent of electric lights had such an amazing effect on society. It changed people's sleep patterns, thus changing their entire routines, traditions, and family and social lives. It served to further differentiate between social statuses. It made an impact in so many way that I never could have imagined.

I thought it was interesting that so many species of birds and bugs were discovered as they were found dead at the base of street lights in the mornings. The idea of "electro"hunting and fishing was also interesting.

I was also surprised by how late into the 20th century electricity became common in middle-class homes. Less than 15% of homes were wired for electricity in 1910---and only 70% by 1930.

Other interesting bits:

Pg. 267: "Self-evident today, the proper use of an incandescent lamp is a social practice that, according to one electrician, was misunderstood by 99 percent of Americans in the early twentieth century. Why pay so much for electric light, these customers surely wondered, only to hide it behind a shade or to place it out of the line of sight... Such an idea must have seemed like the scheme of unscrupulous electric-current salesmen eager to sell customers more light than they needed."

Pg. 283: "These changes in technology produced a corresponding change in the way middle-class American families interacted once the sun went down. Some complained that since family members felt less compelled to draw together each night around a common lamp, their bonds had weakened and the art of conversation had suffered. People talked less and read more, as cheaper books and more evening light encouraged the explosive growth of what people at the time called a new 'reading habit.'"

Lastly, I was compelled to ponder the last line of the book and wonder about the actual validity of this quote from Franklin Roosevelt: "Electricity is no longer a luxury, it is a definite necessity." 

I wonder---how would our society get by if we no longer had access to electricity? 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Spring Book Haul #2

As I said yesterday, our family is making a move this summer so I've got to get stuff packed up. Here's part two of my Spring Book Haul! Half will go into storage and half will stay with me for summer reading.

A sweet friend gave me this amazing copy of Jane Eyre as a gift to celebrate my first book signing last month. This 1943 version has a companion copy, Wuthering Heights. I'll have to see if I can find it. 

It's full of gorgeous wood engravings by Fritz Eichenberg. I can't wait to go through it!

The World Since 1914 by Walter Consuelo Langsam, PH.D. of Union College. 

This 1945 copy features several neat maps.

The Mabinogion (Maa-bee-nog-yawn...sorta..) is a compilation of Welsh myth, history, and folklore, composed orally over the span of several centuries. These eleven stories were compiled in written form during the 12th-13th centuries. I heard about this on a British documentary a few weeks ago and ordered a copy from paperbackswap.com.

Jane Austen and Her Times by G.E. Mitton. This is another book my friend gave me at my book signing. Though the cover description falsely claims Austen wrote for Victorians, (her stories were published 20+ years before the beginning of the Victorian age and were written several years before that) the book was originally published in 1905---so I'm holding out hope that the author was more knowledgeable than the dingbats at Barnes and Noble.

The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life by Hannah Whitall Smith, 1870. Mrs. Smith was a Quaker and later member of the Holiness movement. This book might be encouraging, it might be weird, it might make me laugh...I have no idea! What's for sure, a quick study of Mrs. Smith makes for some very interesting imagining. She lived quite the life! I found this at my church on the free book rack.

Well folks, I've got one more post to show off a couple of antique finds and then I'll be packing things up. I'm looking forward to some book hunting in Oregon this summer---stay tuned!

Monday, April 24, 2017

Spring Book Haul #1

Hey everyone! The kids and I are headed to Oregon for the summer to hang out with mom so I've got some packing to do! I figured I'd better show off my spring book hauls first so they don't get lost in the move. I'm looking forward to perusing some of my favorite Eastern Oregon shops for some great summer reading---and I'll be taking a few of these along, too.

Martin Luther: The Lion-Hearted Reformer by J.A. Morrison. This 1924 edition is dedicated, "To the Youth of the Land." I found this at Helping Hands thrift shop in Bentonville, Arkansas last month.

Another find from Helping Hands: My Mother's Wedding Dress: The Life and Afterlife of Clothes by Justine Picardie, 2005. I don't know...it sounded interesting.

Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity by David J. Kent, 2013. This is the companion to the book on Thomas Edison that I bought awhile back

I found it at Barnes and Noble and like the Edison book, it's got a great Steampunk feel. I'm looking forward to reading it!

The Age of Edison: Electric Light and the Invention of Modern America by Ernest Freeberg, 2013. I'm pretty much obsessed with Gilded Age America and, while I'm not described as the sciency type, stuff like this fascinates me. Totally excited about this book.

Using Wayside Plants by Nelson Coon, 1960. I actually purchased this at Helping Hands to resell in my Etsy shop, but as I was thumbing through it I became intrigued and decided to keep it for myself.

...and this lovely Georgette Heyer. I love this 1972 copy of Lady of Quality because it features a drawing of Bath---one of my favorite spots ever! I believe the idea is that she's standing within one of the crescents---I'm going to say she's on the corner of a street in the Royal Crescent and that I know exactly where she's standing! Ha! Her spencer reminds me of a cape my friend Frances made last year for the costumed promenade in Bath. I love it!

What are you reading? I'd love to hear about it in the comments below!

Sunday, April 23, 2017

The Wonder by Emma Donoghue -- Book Review


Sometimes we read things and think, "Hmm...that wasn't really for me." Other times we read things and look around the room for something to beat ourselves with as penance for wasting our own time.

Book Description: "In the latest by Emma Donoghue, Lib, an English nurse is brought to a small Irish village to observe what appears to be a miracle---a girl said to have survived without food for months. Tourists flock to the cabin of eleven-year-old Anna O'Donnell, who believes herself to be living off manna from heaven, and a journalist is sent to cover the sensation. Lib has her doubts and is bent on proving the whole thing a hoax."

I actually really love "fasting girl" stories. It was a big thing in Victorian times and, while common sense tells us these lengthy and complete fasts were hoaxes, it's fascinating to read about the public's naive reactions in each case. This is a great idea for a storyline, but I didn't at all like the way this one was executed.

Main Thing: Slow and Dull. There is absolutely no rise and fall in this story, whatsoever. We just have the same routine on repeat, chapter after chapter. No side story, no other mystery, no character development, no other interesting anything. It was a major yawner---and that's saying a lot because I read it while laid up in bed after surgery. I had absolutely nothing else to do and I was still overwhelmingly bored with this story.

Second Thing: Inconsistent Protagonist. Lib is a real idiot sometimes. The Dorothy prayer? Please. She doesn't recognize the words of a simple prayer but she can quickly find scriptures to suit her arguments? I have a hard time believing someone educated in medicine can be this ignorant about geography, religion, language, culture, and more. England and Ireland are VERY similar in many of these things---would have been even more so then. I could see some of her ignorances coming out if she would have been working in Asia or something but I guarantee you the English know a thing or two about a bog. It's not just an Ireland thing.

Redeeming Bit: The End. The end is a good one. It's not really expected and it's actually believable. I could totally see this happening and I'm glad it did. I still wanted to chuck the book against the wall when I was through with it, but the three stars it's getting here are a nod to a decent ending.

For a really interesting nonfiction read about the Victorian fasting phenomenon, check out The Fasting Girl: A True Victorian Medical Mystery by Michelle Stacey.

The Ebb Tide by Beverly Lewis -- Book Review


I've enjoyed every Beverly Lewis book I've read, to some extent, but some really touch me. The Ebb Tide was a beautiful story about the blessing that comes from patiently waiting for God's leading in one's life. I loved how Sallie recognized her heart's yearnings but desired to put God's will first. The patient and mature way she handled her questions was blessed in the end by family and friends who were able to see her for who God made her to be and were able to give their blessings on her choices.

I also loved the beautiful imagery of a not-so-Amish place, the seaside. I've got the travelin' bug, just like Sallie, and I understand how easy it is to get caught up in dreams of visiting far-off places. I also know how easy it is to visit far-off places and am so glad my family gives me the freedom to do so.

Book Description: "When friends ask Sallie Riehl to be their daughter's nanny for the summer at their Cape May, New Jersey, vacation home, she jumps at the chance to broaden her horizons beyond the Lancaster County Amish community where she grew up. It is there that she meets Kevin Kreider, a marine biology student who talks freely about all he's learning and asks about her interests, unlike most of the guys she grew up with. Sallie realizes that her time in Cape May is increasing her desire to see the world, challenging her plans for the future. Has she been too hasty with her promises, or will Sallie only find what her heart is longing for back home in Paradise Township?"

I received this book free from Bethany House in exchange for an honest review. 

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

English Lessons by Andrea Lucado -- Book Review #bloggingforbooks


About English Lessons (from the publisher)
"Could She Come to Love the Questions Themselves? The church wasn’t just a part of Andrea Lucado’s childhood. It was her childhood. It provided more than happy moments. It provided an invitation to know Jesus. When Andrea arrived in Oxford the year after she graduated from college, she expected to meet God there. What she didn’t expect was that God would be much bigger than she’d believed. In this engaging memoir, Andrea speaks to all of us who wrestle with doubt and identity. 'So many nights in Oxford,' Andrea writes, 'I felt like the details of my faith were getting fuzzier. Nights turned restless with questions. I questioned God’s existence, and the doubt was getting into my bones.' In English Lessons, Andrea takes us through the roads of England and, more importantly, the paths of the soul. Here she explores the journey of a changing faith and an unchanging God—and why growing up starts with realizing just how small we are."

I struggled with reviewing this book. As a Christian, a writer, a woman, and one who has traveled in England, I think I know what she's trying to say with this book. The problem is, she doesn't actually say it---and that makes it difficult to decide how to go about evaluating it. The book's subtitle, "The crooked little grace-filled path of growing up" alludes to the author's growth throughout the period of time the book describes. The problem is that she doesn't actually grow---or if she does, she doesn't make that very clear.

Here's what I was expecting when I picked up this book: The cover info implies a physical journey, as well as a spiritual one. I was expecting her to have visited "the roads of England" as the back cover states and to have "grown up" a little spiritually or emotionally during that journey.

Instead, I got 200 pages of a pampered Millennial rambling about her issues with "British culture"---opinions that were based on what she experienced within about a three-mile radius of her classes at Oxford Brookes. {If you don't see the issue with this, imagine someone basing their knowledge and opinion of American culture on only the people, conversations, food choices, accent, and political stances of the people in one state--like New Jersey---or Texas---or Oregon---or Minnesota.}

So fine---not every story has to have a deeply spiritual ending. She's still on her journey---I get that. We all are. My question is--what is the point of this book? It's not encouraging to a mature faith and it's not the greatest example to an immature one. I thought maybe all her mentions of drinking and hangovers would culminate in some choice to maybe lay off the liquor a little in the end---but...nope. I think it's one of those preacher-kid rebellion things where it makes her feel edgy and relatable to talk about all her boyfriends and drunken parties and hangouts with the atheist club. All of this would make a great backstory for a redemption tale. But, by the last page, I'm still not seeing a redemption tale.

Why are we publishing the diaries of a wandering preacher's kid? She's careful not to mention on her site's About Me page that she's Max Lucado's daughter so I get it that she doesn't want to stand on the fame of her father, but the thing is---the people who are going to pick up this book are people who have been reading her father for the last 20+ years. People older than me. Then they're going to be super annoyed that they're reading something that sounds like the whiny kids they just scooted out of the house and which should be very clearly marketed to the back end of the Millennial generation. This is a rant, yes. My point is---there is no solid point to this book. That bugs me. Moving on...

Andrea's back cover says, "What she didn't expect to find was that God would be so much bigger than she believed." She did not reveal a big God here. The constant whining about her circumstances got really old, really fast. 100 pages in, I was still wondering if she was going to have a growing up moment. I'd really had enough of the diva drama. Besides the fact that scores of intelligent women would highly covet the opportunity to study at Oxford and explore England without much responsibility for a year, her spoiled attitude {no microwave, no coffee maker, no instantly heated room, etc...} makes me wonder if this woman even realizes what a real problem is? You know---things like hunger, fear, abuse? It makes me embarrassed for her parents and undermines their credibility to have raised such a selfish drama queen. I kept thinking she was overdramatizing herself in order to come around later and talk about her big revelation and change---but nope. As she says, "I tried to have a very serious and contemplative moment with myself, but I couldn't....I looked the same. Maybe all the clothes I had on were European brands and maybe my hair had grown longer, but overall, still me." If the point of this book is to tell the story of how a spirit-filled girl spends a year in one place without having any sort of spiritual or emotional change, then let's make that plainly known from the outset, shall we?

 Now for the redeeming bits...

The mature voice does show itself, if just now and then, in the second half of the book---although the chapter on My Frontlight in the first half of the book provided a great mental picture about how we often need to be carried by those spiritually stronger. I thought her insights in chapter eight were spot on. My favorite quote was this: "If the gospel can be portrayed by someone who isn't even a Christian, it must be an inescapable story. It must be an inescapable story, a thread that runs through everything and everyone." She really does share some great perspectives and truths when she's in the contemplative mood, but her diva-ness obscures a lot of them. Too bad. Sometimes less is more and we writers don't have to share every. single. thing. to be authentic.

Since anyone who has read this far probably already hates me by now, I'm going to go ahead and say this next part and then be done. The author talks a lot about huge cultural differences and how she feels alone. Everyone is "speaking a different language", even though it's all technically English. The problem here is proper education. She nails it on page 26 when she says, "It made me wish I had read more as a child and watched less Saved By The Bell." America's education priorities are ridiculous. {I am aware she was privately schooled. That means little in this case as many are modeled on the same failed system.} Why are we not preparing our children to maturely interact on a global level? Many of the Americans I've traveled with (and some older Canadians, for that matter) come across as very ignorant and irritated when the things we experience in England aren't simple or convenient enough for them. However, when one is traveling, isn't the experience of the new and unexpected the whole point? It's up to us to adapt, not for them to conform. The author's rambling, self-interested dialogue is grating and makes it difficult to understand the point of what she's saying. (13 pages of rambling about a spoon in her tea ends with, "I didn't get it and honestly I still don't." WHAT?!!) If this is how she spoke to the people "over there", I can see why the not-too-wordy British seemed a little standoffish.

In short, the book was full of way too many attempts at artsy poetic-ness and way too little substance. The book needs a resolution---some kind of take-away to make the reader feel like there was a reason for both the writing and the reading of it.

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinionated opinions have been opined without coercion.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Tales of a Wayside Inn --- An Awesome and Rare Surprise in This Vintage Longfellow Collection

You know those times when you have something to share but you don't know how to properly express the level of awesomeness that goes along with it? That's how I'm feeling right about now. Last summer, I picked up this 1915 copy of Longfellow's Tales of a Wayside Inn in the books-for-sale section of our library. You've read before about our library's awesome shelf of antique books that sell for super cheap---it's irresistible! I try to pick up Longfellow when I see him because I plan to save them for our own Evangeline---four year old Brenna Evangeline.

The reason I got so excited about this copy is because of what's written inside. Don't worry, I'll show you in a minute...just let me tell my story! If you're not familiar with Tales of a Wayside Inn, here's the scoop: Originally published in 1863, the book is narrated in turns by fictional friends who are staying at the real-life Sudbury, Massachusetts inn and are telling stories in the form of poems. The Wayside Inn was actually known in real life as The Red Horse Tavern. It was established in 1716 and was a popular hangout for Harvard students until it closed in 1861 upon the death of the owner. Longfellow visited in 1862 and was inspired after receiving a tour of what he thought to be a "rambling, tumble-down building." 

In 1897, the inn was reopened by a man who wanted to restore it and fill it with the beautiful antiques he'd collected on his travels. One of the pieces he added was Daniel Webster's desk. In 1923, Henry Ford bought the inn and that's where this book comes in.

Just like Longfellow's group of friends who stayed at the inn, Mr. Glenn L. Davis and Mr. Max Herzog visited the inn with their wives and recorded the event by signing the inside of this book on August 28, 1930. What's more, they signed it on Daniel Webster's desk! Whomever owned this book also thought it was a special memento because they came back to it 25 years later to record the fire that destroyed Webster's desk in 1955, along with many other beautiful antiques and much of the inn.

There is so much fun history to be read about The Wayside Inn---it's still operating today! It's located along the Old Boston Post Road---one of the oldest in the country, having been in operation since 1673. George Washington passed through there in 1775 on his way to Cambridge to take command of the Patriot army. In fact, it's recorded that both Washington and LaFayette passed by numerous times. Henry David Thoreau noted in his journal that he left his horse there in 1853 while attending to other business in town. 

So, what do you think? Pretty awesome, huh? 
How I love books! Beautiful, wonderful, holders of history.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Treasured Grace by Tracie Peterson -- Book Review


From Amazon (condensed): "In untamed Oregon Country, one young woman fights to keep her family safe. After her parents died, raising her two younger sisters became Grace's responsibility. A hasty decision to head west seemed like an opportunity for a fresh start but has instead left Grace in a precarious position. When missionary Dr. Marcus Whitman and his wife agree to let Grace and her sisters stay at their mission for the winter, Grace is grateful. Until they hear from their uncle in Oregon City, the three sisters have nowhere else to go.

As Grace adjusts to life in the West, she meets Alex Armistead who intrigues and infuriates her in equal measure. When tragedy threatens lives at the mission and among the native Cayuse who live nearby, it is Alex who helps Grace help where she can, despite Dr. Whitman's disapproval. As the death toll rises, so do tensions between the settlers and the natives, and Grace soon finds herself and those she loves in more danger than she imagined possible."

I hardly ever pick up a romantic fiction story, but I was super excited to see this new read set in the Eastern Oregon county where I grew up and lived most of my life. Tracie Peterson's simple and touching story, Treasured Grace, is an interesting historical fiction that was simple to imagine as I know this landscape like the back of my hand. I've always been interested in the stories of Whitman Mission and other local Oregon Trail history. My mom and I are actually planning a trip to visit the site of Whitman Mission in the near future. 

I'd read the story of the Whitman Massacre multiple times before, but this time was very difficult having already established a relationship with them. The tragic upon tragic of this story made any happy endings fall flat. Perhaps that's what the author intended or perhaps the story was just too personal but I came away feeling very bummed.

I received this book free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The Inkblots by Damion Searls -- Book Review #bloggingforbooks


When I was in the third grade, I was evaluated for the school district's TAG program---Talented and Gifted. I remember sitting at a table the color of a manila envelope and answering questions about abstract art and other things I didn't understand. I must have been deemed "special" enough for the elite smart-kid programs because from then on, I was a guinea pig for all the educational reform experiments the 80s could muster. Whenever I read about The Rorschach "Test", I think about the guidance counselor, Mrs. L, and the manila envelope-colored table.

The Rorschach "Test" isn't really a test but a way of evaluating one's personality traits, emotional state, and "secret thoughts". A subject is shown a series of inkblots and is asked to describe what they see and how it makes them feel. As you can imagine, there's a lot of controversy surrounding whether this is a valid evaluation method and whether or not the administrator can truly "read" the mind and emotions of the subject.

In The Inkblots, author Damion Searls tells the story of Hermann Rorschach, the creator of the test. Like any good biography/history book/mini encyclopedia, the story begins with his family history and follows him through to his death with all the trivia you'd ever want to know sandwiched in between. His professional and personal lives run parallel throughout the book---except when they intersect in ways that reveal a man who allowed his curiosity and thirst for knowledge lead him to true heart relationships with his patients.

Searls' book is the first ever biography written about Rorschach and his test. The connections it makes to historical figures that influenced his passion for psychology and research are interesting to read about without becoming droning. The test's uses and influences, from its inception to current uses and administration methods, are a testament to Rorschach's legacy, despite his early death.

You can learn more about author Damion Searls on his website.

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.






Friday, February 17, 2017

Winter Reading Review

I've read several books in the last few months that I feel a little indifferent about. Not passionate enough to write a full-length review, but still have a few thoughts on each. Here's my winter reading review.


Titanic Survior by Violet Jessop (1934)

I really enjoyed this heartwarming and humorous memoir of stewardess Violet Jessop---the woman who outwitted multiple childhood illnesses, two ship sinkings, several other at-sea tragedies, and many suitors, to die a happy elderly woman in Suffolk at the end of her amazing life.

 Jessop was a great storyteller and the addition of the editor's annotations made for a clear, easy read that kept me interested and entertained.

 I was surprised at how easily Jessop resumed normal life after the sinking of the Titanic and Britannic ships. I wonder how much healing time had passed before she actually penned these memoirs as her hindsight is unnaturally calm. She exhibited a great attitude about getting right back to her work and not allowing fear to keep her from pursuing the sea life she loved.

A couple years ago, I put on a Titanic Tea Party for my kids for one of our homeschool lessons. My now 8-year-old daughter played Violet Jessop. You can see that here: Titanic Tea Party.


Paper: An Elegy by Ian Sansom (2012)

Well, I want to say that a book on paper is just as dull as it sounds. Yet, a book on paper is exactly the sort of nerdy thing that appeals to me. However, in this case---meh. I purchased this in Bath, England in September 2016 during the Jane Austen Festival so I felt compelled to finish it, but it was a push to be sure.

 There were a few interesting parts but, like many of the "biographies of things" I come across, the author includes every bit of every random detail possible and takes lengthy jaunts in odd directions in order to fill pages. So, rather than being exciting and interesting, I found many parts to be dull and droning.

 Still, here are some parts that I did like:

 I was especially intrigued by the descriptions and histories of board games. I had no idea that paper board games were so old and that there were games like Monopoly that predate it. I'd love to get a hold of some of these neat Victorian board games!

 I also loved his description of how he will go with shoddy clothes and bills owed in order to make sure he's got books. This is true Bibliomania---an ailment I suffer from without much suffering.

 ...and then there's the part where he used the word "phantasmagoric" by the third page. Anyone who can work that into a sentence deserves a good pat on the back!

Blooming by Susan Allen Toth (1978)

This book was meant to be relatable. However, reading this memoir was like reading a Judy Blume book in the 5th grade. I felt the same sense of not being able to quite relate to the awkward teen thing. I just wasn't really an awkward teen and definitely wasn't an innocent or inexperienced one. Now that I'm living a much more moral and decent life than I did as a teen, I should be able to say that I wish my teen years would have been more like the idyllic ones she describes. But really, they were great years and I wouldn't be who I am now (and wouldn't be avoiding the stuff I now avoid) without them. Does that character revelation disappoint you? Ha! Well, I guess you can take comfort in the fact that I'll always tell it to you straight---like it or not!

 In other ways, I related completely. For instance, in her chapter on being a bookworm she discusses the city library of her youth. "Entering the Ames Public Library I could feel its compelling power immediately." In describing the selection of books she says, "It was like having a box of assorted chocolate, all tempting, with unknown centers. I wanted to bite into each one right away to see what it was like." Recently, my mom and I visited the library in my hometown. So many wonderful memories came rushing back---libraries have always felt like home to me. Even upon the very first visit!

 I related well to her stories about her early days in journalism and trying to put together a feature story form an interview subject that was way over her head. Her experiences mirrored my own immature attempts to appear to be a "real newspaperwoman" in my early 20s. Like me, she didn't last long in journalism.

 The book is basically a really thorough social commentary on American life in between my mother's and grandmother's eras. Allen Toth had a simple, positive childhood, for the most part and told her story in an engaging way. Were I a good 30 years older than I am, I think this story would have affected me strongly. As it is, I can't say that I enjoyed the book---but I obviously found enough worth in it to read it through.

Aunt Dimity & the Buried Treasure by Nancy Atherton (2016)

This was my first Aunt Dimity book and I'm already in love with the characters, premise, and setting of the series. It's not often that you find a happily married mother as a heroine; that, and the fact that they're set in England, is what really attracted me in the first place.

This particular mystery was fun as my husband and I having a growing interest in archaeology having watched the first 15 seasons of Time Team on YouTube. Also set in England, the team is always finding neat artifacts like those involved in this story.

I love reading cozy mysteries but find it difficult to find clean ones. I picked this one up at our local library, taking a chance that it would be ok. I was pleasantly surprised as, for the most part, there wasn't much in it that was objectionable. After reading reviews on the series as a whole, it sounds like most are not murder mysteries and that most readers are finding them to be clean. I'm looking for the first books so I can give them a go.

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe (2009)

This book had been on my wishlist for quite awhile as I've always been intrigued by the history and story of the Salem Witch Trials. Author Katherine Howe is a descendant of two Salem women of the time---one who survived the Trials and one who did not. Her interest in her family history spurred her to write this story---just like my New England heritage is part of why I'm interested in the subject as well. I've read a lot on it---but nothing like this.

If I don't think too much about the plethora of plot holes, immaturity and lack of education of a supposed Harvard graduate student, extremely annoying predictability of every part of the story, and stereotypical character types; as well as the fact that the moment the protagonist has been waiting for---the unearthing of the object she's searching for throughout the ENTIRE book---is alluded to rather than actually described...if I don't think about all of that and more, this book is not so bad.

Everything I've ever read on the subject assumes the women were set up by jealous or resentful villagers or that hysteria blinded the leaders and pride kept them blind. Nothing I've read has ever asked the question that Howe asks: What if they really were witches?

What was really interesting to me is that she doesn't just ask if they really were witches---but if they were witches AND Christians? She makes the point that we really only understand things at the level of technology that we've advanced to. With the Puritan Movement in full swing in New England, there was still a lot of confusion as to how God worked in the lives of his people. The Trials served as a catalyst to decide how far one could go in interfering in the lives of others and still "blame" God for the outcome.

As far as "levels of witchcraftiness" in the book---it really doesn't become a thing until toward the end and it's not super sinister freaky weird. It still seems out of place in a book that was showing such promise "scientifically" without a bunch of supernatural nonsense.

The theme I loved the most in the story was the story of the mother/daughter bond throughout the generations.


This is one of those stories that makes everything known to the reader before the characters are aware. Whether or not that was intentional, it was interesting seeing how things played out---even though there were no surprises.

Gilded Lives, Fatal Voyage by Hugh Brewster (2012)

Book Description: "Gilded Lives, Fatal Voyage takes us behind the paneled doors of the Titanic’s elegant private suites to present compelling, memorable portraits of her most notable passengers. The intimate atmosphere onboard history’s most famous ship is recreated as never before.

The Titanic has often been called “an exquisite microcosm of the Edwardian era,” but until now, her story has not been presented as such. In Gilded Lives, Fatal Voyage, historian Hugh Brewster seamlessly interweaves personal narratives of the lost liner’s most fascinating people with a haunting account of the fateful maiden crossing. Employing scrupulous research and featuring 100 rarely-seen photographs, he accurately depicts the ship’s brief life and tragic denouement, presenting the very latest thinking on everything from when and how the lifeboats were loaded to the last tune played by the orchestra."

                                     ***********************************************
"It was a brilliant crowd...a rare gathering of beautiful women and splendid men." ---Lily May Futrelle

This quote at the very beginning of the book is probably why so many of us love Titanic stories: we are sad that these beautiful people had to experience such horrible tragedy. We are also the tiniest bit reassured when we are reminded that tragedy is not a respecter of persons and is often left to chance. Horrible things can happen no matter how rich and famous one is.


Books like this take me forever to read, not because they're dull but because I usually can't go two pages without finding a reason to stop and research something. I really enjoyed reading the mini biographies constructed around an in depth look at high society before WWI destroyed the Gilded Age of America and Great Britain.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Hester: The Missing Years of the Scarlet Letter by Paula Reed -- Book Review


I've been taking the kids to the library more often lately and decided to grab a stack for myself, now and then. I have such a huge TBR shelf at home, but it's fun to see what else is out there, too. I was excited? {not sure that's the word? Intrigued, maybe?} to see this continuation of The Scarlet Letter. To sum things up, I wasn't impressed. To find out why, read on.

From Amazon: "Upon the death of her demonic husband, Hester Prynne is left a widow, and her daughter Pearl, a wealthy heiress. Hester takes her daughter to live a quiet life in England, only to find herself drawn into the circle of the most powerful Puritan of all time, Oliver Cromwell. From the moment Hester donned the famous scarlet letter, it instilled in her the power to see the sins and hypocrisy of others, an ability not lost on the Lord Protector of the Commonwealth. To Cromwell, Hester’s sight is either a sign of sorcery or a divine gift that Hester must use to assist the divinely chosen, as he deems himself, in his scheming to control England.  Since sorcery carries a death sentence, Hester is compelled against her will to use her sight to assist Cromwell. She soon finds herself entangled in a web of political intrigue, espionage, and forbidden love. Hester will carry readers away to seventeenth-century England with a deeply human story of family, love, history, desire, weakness, and the human ideal."

The Scarlet Letter is a story I've re-read at different times in my life and responded to differently based on maturity and experience. In my opinion, one must really be able to relate to Hester's point of view in order to really get all there is to get out of The Scarlet Letter. Yeah, you can be the scorned and bitter type and get Chillingworth, you can be the self-hating man with a martyr complex and get Dimmesdale, but to get Hester, you've got to understand redemption. You've got to "get" grace. Not everyone who reads Hester sympathizes with Hester. You sort of have to have been Hester to get it and the more life experiences I have that draw me closer to her character---all of her character---the more I cherish the story.

Reed pretty much butchers everything Hawthorne built in the character of Hester. Granted, there were some great story line themes but I was disappointed overall. As one who usually doesn't enjoy continuations, I was willing to come into this one with an open mind. I started out really admiring the new, stronger Hester; but as the author destroyed her strong and sure character more and more as the book progressed, I ended up highly disliking and disrespecting her.

It's interesting that one character trait that many reviewers seem to despise was the one thing about her that seemed completely real and believable to me. Because of her experience with the consequences of sin, Hester has the ability to see the sins of others. I, too, see hypocrisy and hidden sin in people. It's a discernment that God gives to some---a trust so one can pray and possibly speak into the situation at the appropriate time. And yes, it requires a little bit of, "it takes one to know one." Hester describes it as a mantle that they wear---I see it as a name or title they are given. As a Christian, I know that God desires us to walk with the character of Christ. When we sin, he doesn't desire to call us by that sinful name, but to give us a new name that symbolizes our redemption and salvation through him (Rev. 2). When I see a person burdened by their secret sin and that sin is named to me, I am able to privately pray into that specific situation, usually without the person ever realizing I know, in a way that not everyone can. Hester's "ability", as well as the way she was treated because of it, seems perfectly plausible to me as I have operated in this fashion to varying extents for years.

Now for all the stuff I didn't like...

Hester's deep and regular involvement in aiding Cromwell seems *a bit* contrived and overdone. Her discernment of peoples' motives and private sins was an interesting twist at first, but the author turned it into something seemingly unbelievable when she made Hester, a commoner and a woman without a male head, a most trusted aid to Cromwell. This is the 17th century we're talking about. At best, she would have been thrown out of the Wright's home to avoid scandal on their good name. At worst, she would have been condemned as a witch. Never would she have been, one day and seemingly without much thought, private confidant, and later conscience, (what????) of the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell.

I was also really annoyed with her free and easy sexual nature. The author wanted the opportunity to bring in a Libertine character since that was a big Charles II "thing", but the derogatory sexual escapades and language that Hester uses change her from a woman with passions who had already learned to bridle them to something cheap and nasty. The author seemed to think Hester had to have some kind of "release" and thus took up with the character of John. But seriously, if she was so desperate for more illicit sex, wouldn't we have seen that crop up in The Scarlet Letter, where she lived alone and shunned, rather than later on when she had friends and the respect of those around her?

It would have been nice to see Pearl learn from her mother's mistakes, but instead we have to follow the predictable "sins of the fathers" trope and watch her fall into the lust trap---only to be rescued in probably the most ridiculously contrived part of the story. (Except for maybe the part about Charles II and his entourage taking regular dinners with Hester and Pearl in their little townhouse in Buges.)

Speaking of tropes, I get so tired of the "every man will betray you" garbage. Hester lectures Pearl about her ignorance toward men and assures her that even her beloved new beau will betray her before long. Men just can't. be. trusted. Sure, that might be true---but no one bothers to point out that women betray their men in the same ways. It's called being human. You stay with someone long enough and they will hurt you at some point. No matter how true in spirit they are. Can we get off the man-hater wagon...or, at the least, acknowledge we women are no better when it comes to disappointing the ones we love?

Anyone who is a fan of Hawthorne and The Scarlet Letter will probably want to read this one---regardless of how lousy the reviews are. If you go into it ready to chuck plausibility, historical accuracy, and depth of character growth out the window, you'll surely find something redeemable about the story.

Linking with:
Booknificent Thursday