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1. Classic YA Discussion: Alanna, The First Adventure

Welcome to our discussion for Alanna: the First Adventure! Today we have a special guest joining us, the wonderful Aussie scifi/fantasy author Andrea K. Höst, author of the Touchstone trilogy and a Midnight Garden favorite, And All the Stars. Our backgrounds: Wendy has never read this before, but both Layla and Andrea have. This series seems beloved by most fantasy fans, so it seemed like a great selection for our classics series. *As always, please be aware there will be spoilers if you haven’t read this book yet. Wendy: Thanks for joining our chat today, Andrea! Andrea: Glad to be here!  And it’s a great excuse to refresh my memory: I read the Alanna series a long time ago – long enough that I’ve forgotten most of it (except some vague memories of not going swimming).  It’s a book on the younger end (main character goes from eleven to thirteen).... Read more »

The post Classic YA Discussion: Alanna, The First Adventure appeared first on The Midnight Garden.

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2. ‘A girl who made the peacock look ugly, the squirrel unloveable': Martial mourns a lost love

I begin with one of Martial’s more troublesome twentieth-century Avid Fans: the poet, editor, translator, and Fascist propagandist, Ezra Pound.

The post ‘A girl who made the peacock look ugly, the squirrel unloveable': Martial mourns a lost love appeared first on OUPblog.

0 Comments on ‘A girl who made the peacock look ugly, the squirrel unloveable': Martial mourns a lost love as of 11/25/2015 7:27:00 AM
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3. Goblin Market and Other Poems

Goblin Market and Other Poems. Christina Rossetti. 1862. 208 pages. [Source: Bought]

Poetry is not something I review frequently at Becky's Book Reviews. I tend to have a love-hate relationship with the genre. Either I love, love, love a particular poet, or, I don't. Typically, it isn't so much "hate" as indifference or even confusion. But now and then I "discover" a poet that makes me really love sitting down with a book of poetry. One of my happy discoveries of the year is Christina Rossetti. Technically I was familiar with her poem "Goblin Market" having studied it in school way back when. But since I haven't read another poem by Rossetti until this year, I'm counting her as a NEW discovery.

This poetry collection was first published in 1862. It begins with "Goblin Market." And I do have to say that if you just read one poem this year, it should be Goblin Market, in my opinion!!! It is about two sisters, Laura and Lizzie. And, of course, it features goblins selling forbidden fruit and other goodies. One sister is tempted beyond what she can stand, and, well, you should read it for yourself!

The collection includes other poems as well. Some short. Some long. Some darker than others perhaps. But not all the poems are dreary and melancholy. All feel authentically human, and capture something of the human experience. Rossetti also wrote devotional poems, but, the poems in this collection are different. Almost like the poems capture not what we should feel or ought to feel or what we want to feel, but, instead how we do feel--for better or worse.

Some poems focus on the seasons, on nature, on the natural way of things--including life, death, change, renewal. Some poems focus on love and relationships. Not all poems end happily ever after, in fact, many don't. But there is something beautiful about the poems even when they are about broken relationships.

Poems I'd recommend:

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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4. ‘I get more of a kick out of your bad temper than your good looks': Martial’s guide to getting boys

Martial adores sexy boys. He craves their kisses, all the more so if they play hard to get, " buffed amber, a fire yellow-green with Eastern incense… That, Diadumenus, is how your kisses smell, you cruel boy. What if you gave me all of them, without holding back?" (3.65) and "I only want struggling kisses – kisses I’ve seized; I get more of a kick out of your bad temper than your good looks…" (5.46).

The post ‘I get more of a kick out of your bad temper than your good looks': Martial’s guide to getting boys appeared first on OUPblog.

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5. Eight Cousins (1874)

Eight Cousins. Louisa May Alcott. 1874. 224 pages. [Source: Bought]

Rose sat all alone in the big best parlor, with her little handkerchief laid ready to catch the first tear, for she was thinking of her troubles, and a shower was expected.

If only I'd first met Louisa May Alcott through Eight Cousins instead of Little Women! It might not have taken me decades to read a second book by Louisa May Alcott. My first book by Louisa May Alcott was, of course, Little Women. It's not that I found it awful--just awfully sad. Eight Cousins, on the other hand, was a delight from cover to cover.

The heroine, Rose Campbell, is an orphan. She has plenty of aunts--or perhaps I should say great aunts--around in addition to seven boy cousins. Her official guardian is Uncle (Doctor) Alec. His aunts aren't pleased with the arrangement, thinking that one of them--any of them really--could do a "better" job of raising George and Rose's daughter. He offers a compromise of sorts. Let him alone and let him be sole guardian with the final say on everything concerning Rose for a full year, and then at the end of the year have a conference to determine if he did a good enough job to remain her guardian for keeps. The book chronicles Rose's first year.

Readers will see Rose adapt to her new life; make friends with Phebe, the maid servant; make friends with all seven of her cousins; come to accept all her fussy and fidgety aunts; have plenty of adventures in all four seasons of the year; grow academically under the teaching of her uncle; learn practical skills from her aunts--sewing, cooking, cleaning, etc.

Rose is a good, sweet, intelligent young girl. And she was a joy to spend time with. She does act "as a magnet" for her cousins, they're drawn to her and want to spend time with her; her aunts and uncle hope she'll use her magnetism for good--to improve the morals of her cousins. Is the book preachy? Yes and no. I mean I don't think it is especially preachy when compared to children's books written in the Victorian period. Compared to children's books written today perhaps, it is somewhat preachy. I did notice that when the book turned preachy most often it was through dialogue; let's just say that Rose has opinionated aunts! Though not always. Here's a good example:
Fathers and mothers are too absorbed in business and housekeeping to study their children, and cherish that sweet and natural confidence which is a child's surest safeguard, and a parent's subtlest power. So the young hearts hide trouble or temptation till the harm is done, and mutual regret comes too late. Happy the boys and girls who tell all things freely to father or mother, sure of pity, help, and pardon; and thrice happy the parents who, out of their own experience, and by their own virtues, can teach and uplift the souls for which they are responsible.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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6. Let the Hurricane Roar (1932)

Let the Hurricane Roar. Rose Wilder Lane. 1932. 118 pages. [Source: Borrowed]

After reading Pioneer Girl by Laura Ingalls Wilder earlier this year, I was curious to read Rose Wilder Lane's Let the Hurricane Roar. If memory serves me, Rose Wilder Lane borrowed freely from her mother in terms of character and plot. That is while she was reading and editing and preparing her mother's manuscript to be sent off for possible publication, she was beginning to write her own pioneer-inspired novels, one of which is Let the Hurricane Roar. It has been a good six months or so since I read Pioneer Girl, so I don't remember the details clearly. This mother-and-daughter team were definitely writing at the same time about the same things, though I suppose for different audiences. Little House in the Big Woods was published in 1932, I believe, and Let the Hurricane Roar was published in 1933.

Let The Hurricane Roar is a historical fiction with a touch of romance. One could possibly say that it "celebrates" the pioneer spirit, but, it doesn't so much celebrate it and honor it as it does present it realistically. Life was hard, tough, at times seeming bleak and hopeless. The only thing abounding was often pride, stubbornness, gumption, if you will, and diligence. In short supply? Money and neighbors and life's luxuries.

Molly and David are the main characters of the novel. These two head out west, and it isn't long before Molly finds herself with child. Fearing to leave their new claim unsettled, she becomes enthusiastic about going with him to the claim and having the child all by herself. Who needs neighbors, friends, family, a midwife or a doctor? Molly proves to be just as proud and stubborn and spirited as her husband. (David DOES play the fiddle. And the two do endure several blizzards.)

To sum it all up, the book is more an account of horrible things happening to them within the first two or three years of settling their claim than anything else. That's not to say that the book lacks characterization. But it does lack characters, in some ways, since Molly and David are essentially on their own. Swedish neighbors, I believe, appear midway through and then depart again. And Molly does visit the nearest town in one or two chapters. But essentially it's just the three of them! (The baby doesn't do much if I'm honest.)

I liked it okay. It wasn't a great book that I simply loved and delighted in. But it was a solidly good read for anyone interested in pioneers.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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7. ‘Tomorrow I’ll start living': Martial on priorities

‘Dear Martial’ – what a strange coincidence that Martial’s soul-mate, who leads the life he himself dreams of living, is called ‘Julius Martial’. In our selection we meet him first at 1.107, playfully teasing the poet that he ought to write “something big; you’re such a slacker”; at the start of book 3, JMa’s is ‘a name that’s constantly on my lips’ (3.5), and the welcome at his lovely suburban villa on the Janiculan Hill 4.64 is so warm, ‘you will think the place is yours’.

The post ‘Tomorrow I’ll start living': Martial on priorities appeared first on OUPblog.

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8. Distinctive dress: Martial’s index to life in a crammed metropolis

His books are famous around the world, but their author struggles to get by – two themes that quickly become familiar to any reader. Martial has an eye for fabric. He habitually ranks himself and judges others by the price and quality of their clothing and accessories (e.g. 2.29, 2.57), a quick index in the face-to-face street life of the crammed metropolis.

The post Distinctive dress: Martial’s index to life in a crammed metropolis appeared first on OUPblog.

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9. Classic MG Discussion: The Witches

Wendy: Welcome to our discussion for Roald Dahl’s The Witches. This is the story of a boy named — um, this is where I realize the main character is unnamed! His grandmother charmingly calls him “my darling” often, but I’d never before realized he didn’t have a name. So let’s start again. This is the story of a boy who happens upon a gathering of witches (who despise children and want to wipe them off the face of the earth) while staying at a hotel in England with his Norwegian grandmother. It is a funny, sweet book that I’ve loved since I was little, so let’s begin! Layla: Woah, mind blown. Did not realize that child was unnamed either! Wendy: He’s given the name “Luke” in the movie, but yes, no name at all in the book. Layla: I also forgot his grandmother was Norwegian. I forgot a lot of this... Read more »

The post Classic MG Discussion: The Witches appeared first on The Midnight Garden.

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10. Roman author, Greek genre: Martial’s use of Epigrams

An epigram is a short poem, most often of two or four lines. Its typical metre is the elegiac couplet, which is also the metre of Roman love poetry (elegy) and the hallmark of Ovid. In antiquity it was a distinctively Greek literary form: Roman writers were never comfortable in it as they were in other imported genres, such as epic and elegy. When they dabbled in epigram they often used Greek to do so. Martial’s decision to write books of Latin epigrams, and nothing else, is thus a very significant departure.

The post Roman author, Greek genre: Martial’s use of Epigrams appeared first on OUPblog.

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11. Introducing Martial: Epigrams

Who is ‘Martial’? "Up to this point, Madam, this little book has been written for you. You want to know for whom the bits further in are written? For me." (3.68) Marcus Valerius Martialis was born some time around AD 40 (we know his birthday, 1st March, but not the year) at Bilbilis in Hispania Tarraconensis, a province of oil- and wine-rich Roman Spain.

The post Introducing Martial: Epigrams appeared first on OUPblog.

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12. The Stratford Zoo Midnight Review Presents: Macbeth AND The Stratford Zoo Midnight Review Presents: Hamlet written by Ian Lendler, art by Zack Giallongo, colors by Alisa Harris

The Stratford Zoo Midnight Review series by Ian Lendler and Zack Giallongo is going to do for Shakespeare what George O'Connor has done for Greek mythology with his Olympians series. Last year they debuted, The Stratford Zoo Midnight Review Presents: Macbeth, and now, as promised by the peacock at the end of Macbeth, The Stratford Zoo Midnight Review: Romeo and Juliet has arrived!

The Stratford Zoo Midnight Review Presents: Macbeth takes a pretty intense, adult play about a thirst for power, a prophecy and more than a few murders and, miraculously, makes it kid appropriate. As The Stratford Zoo Midnight Review Presents: Macbeth begins, there is a quick set up where readers see a pink, tentacle-y arm unlocking cages all over the zoo and the audience taking their seats while seagulls hawk "Peanuts! Earthworms! Ice cold bananas!" and, "Carrion, rotting carrion!" Panels, sometimes strategically placed, allow glimpses of the audience and their reactions as the play unfolds.

Macbeth, as played by the lion, is adored by all, plied with food and hungry for something new. He realizes that if he eats the king he will become the new king. It's not food Macbeth wants, it's power! Loads of ketchup and an elephant getting up out of his seat disguise the murders that Macbeth commits to become and stay king. Lady Macbeth, as played by a cheetah, realizes, most dramatically, that her spots just will NOT come out (and a key word in her famous speech about them is changed to "dumb.") MacDuff, as played by a stork, defeats Macbeth, fulfilling the prophecy because he wasn't born from a mother, but "delivered," and, happily, everyone that he has eaten in his quest for power pops out of his mouth! The actors take a bow, the audience leaves and, as the zoo opens we see kids wondering what the animals do all night, since they seem to sleep all day...

In The Stratford Zoo Midnight Review: Romeo and Juliet the animal actors return with another of Shakespeare's tragedies and a rooster and a bear in the titular roles. The same family of monkeys return for the play, and the little one quips and complains and tussles with a lamb, Lydia, but ultimately enjoy the play and find friendship after the curtain closes, echoing that action on the stage.  The writing and casting of The Stratford Zoo Midnight Review: Romeo and Juliet is brilliant. Romeo and the Montagues are roosters (and chickens) and part of the Verona Petting Zoo and known as "Petters." The Capulets are Wilders, bears living in the wilderness. The two meet at a costume party where Romeo is wearing a bandit mask and Juliet is dressed as (a very cute) Abraham Lincoln. Lendler gets around the love, marriage and death aspects of the story by having Romeo and Juliet want to be best friends and Juliet deciding to enter into early hibernation.

Giallongo's illustrations are bright and colorful and hilarious. The plans for Juliet's party include juice boxes and a blow-up bounce house. The Stratford Zoo Midnight Review: Romeo and Juliet is a more brightly colored book, perhaps because of the roosters. Once again, the violence and death is tactfully handled by having an elephant in the audience - this time with a date in tow - stand up and block the stage. The story and art work together perfectly, once again, in this totally entertaining graphic novel. Kids don't need to know that they are reading a Shakespeare play to enjoy or understand the story - it works on its own. The bonus is, maybe 5 years down the road when they read the play in high school, they will already know the story! Once again, the zookeepers clean up after the play, baffled by a bottle of "Hibernation Juice" they discover amongst the trash. The next play/graphic novel promises to be a comedy and I can't wait to read it.

Source: Purchased (Macbeth) and Review Copy (Romeo & Juliet)

0 Comments on The Stratford Zoo Midnight Review Presents: Macbeth AND The Stratford Zoo Midnight Review Presents: Hamlet written by Ian Lendler, art by Zack Giallongo, colors by Alisa Harris as of 10/19/2015 4:55:00 AM
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13. Illustration Inspiration: Jackie Morris, “The Wild Swans”

Jackie Morris lives in Pembrokeshire, Wales, with children, dogs and cats. Her latest book is the retelling of Hans Christian Andersen's The Wild Swans.

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14. Oxford World’s Classics Reading Group Season 4: Martial’s Epigrams

The poet we call Martial, Marcus Valerius Martialis, lived by his wits in first-century Rome. Pounding the mean streets of the Empire's capital, he takes apart the pretensions, addictions, and cruelties of its inhabitants with perfect comic timing and killer punchlines.

The post Oxford World’s Classics Reading Group Season 4: Martial’s Epigrams appeared first on OUPblog.

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15. Legal order: lessons from ancient Athens

How do large-scale societies achieve cooperation? Since Thomas Hobbes’ famous work, Leviathan (1651), social scientific treatments of the problem of cooperation have assumed that living together without killing one another requires an act of depersonalization in the form of a transfer of individual powers to an all-powerful central government.

The post Legal order: lessons from ancient Athens appeared first on OUPblog.

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16. Is Robert Pogue Harrison the most significant writer in the humanities?


Robert Pogue Harrison’s Juvenescence: A Cultural History of Our Age explores the history of culture, from antiquity to the present, in order to frame how neotony, the retention of juvenile characteristics through adulthood, has become central to our youth-obsessed, yet historically entrenched civilization. Mired in the past, and at the same time, forced to look forward, the way in which we frame life and death errs heavy on the side of protracting the cusp of adulthood. “While genius liberates the novelties of the future,” Harrison writes, “wisdom inherits the legacies of the past, renewing them in the process of handing them down.”

From the Southern Humanities Reviewwhich considers Harrison one of our foremost academics working today:

Robert Pogue Harrison, an intellectual steeped in the philosophical and literary traditions of the Western world, may be the single most significant writer in the humanities today. In three of his previous booksForests: The Shadow of Civilization, The Dominion of the Dead, and Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition—he developed a particular style of writing that takes readers on a journey through time, tracing a particular concept or trope as it manifests itself in a wide array of literary and philosophical works. . . . In each of his books, Harrison demonstrates that responses to the most fundamental human questions often appear in the most unlikely places and that it takes a formidable intellect and an Auerbach-like memory to be able to discern a particular thread that runs through the tradition. To read Harrison, therefore, is to be reminded of texts that you may have read years ago, or the texts that you may be studying or even teaching at this time, only to discover that you have never carefully read them.

And, as the SHR piece concludes:

In Juvenescence, Harrison fashions himself as a type of philosophico-literary renouvelant, a young adherent to a long tradition, one who affirms his faith in the meaning-producing capacities of texts that are both all too familiar and long forgotten. In doing this, Harrison has written a book that enacts what it describes, one which boldly explores new ideas through revitalizing the past.

To read more about Juvenescence, click here.

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17. Heidi

Heidi. Johanna Spyri. 1880/2009. Puffin Classics/Penguin.  320 pages. [Source: Bought]

I enjoyed reading Heidi for the third time. I really did. I definitely think there is something timeless about this children's novel. Why do I like it so much?

Well, I like Heidi herself, of course. I love her actually. Like isn't strong enough a word for how I feel about her.

I also love the developing relationship between Heidi and her Grandfather. I do. I really tend to love books that highlight the special bond or relationship that exists between grandparents and grandchildren, or, even between the generations, such as Heidi and "the Grandmother" (Peter's grandmother). Heidi values--loves unconditionally--these two so very much. And I have to admit I love them too.

I enjoy reading about Heidi's time with Peter. Peter is such an interesting character: at times very naughty and so stubborn. Yet there is something joyful about him too. Even if he is a bit difficult to get along with at times. Heidi never gives up on Peter, she keeps pushing him to be better and better.

I like that the book does have flawed characters. Characters like Peter and the Grandfather. Now, I suppose, one could argue that Heidi is too good to be true, that she's not flawed enough. I don't have a good answer for that, other than the fact that in this case, it doesn't bother me. Perhaps because Heidi is clueless as to how good she is. Heidi isn't proud or snobbish. Far from it.

I like the morals of the book. I really do. There is just something incredibly wholesome about this one. One of the 'morals' of this one is the providence of God. Heidi may not understand just why she's torn away from Grandfather and forced to go away and be a companion for Clara, but, she later comes to realize that it was God working all things for good. While with Clara, she not only makes a good friend, but she learns to read, she meets Jesus, she makes other friends whose lives she will without a doubt change for the better. Because she's met Jesus, when she does eventually go back to Grandfather, she is able to tell him about Jesus, and he comes to Christ as well. Heidi touches many lives besides the Grandfather and Grandmother, she also helps Clara's doctor reconcile with God. And, then, there is, of course, the obvious, Clara's coming to visit and learning to walk again. The book has some good-and-wise things to say about life, prayer, and God. This focus on the spiritual life may make the book seem old-fashioned to some readers perhaps. And may even be unwelcome by some today. But. I think Heidi has that something special that more modern books lack at times.

There is something sweet about the book that leaves you with a satisfied feeling. Not every book does you know.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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18. Notting Hill Mystery

Notting Hill Mystery. Charles Warren Adams. 1862/2015. Poisoned Pen Press. 284 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Dare I say that I enjoyed The Notting Hill Mystery at least as much as Wilkie Collin's A Woman in White? What if I say I liked it even more?! Granted, it has been a few years since I've read A Woman in White. But Notting Hill was such a surprisingly wonderfully old-fashioned mystery, and, with good reason, I suppose, since it was published in the 1860s!

If you enjoy sensational Victorian novels, this one proves a satisfying treat. The "hero" of the novel has collected all the evidence he can about a certain case. He's not positively sure it's a murder case, because if it is murder, it's far from straight-forward. The less you know, the better the novel will read, in my opinion. But it involves TWINS and mesmerism and poison.

At first, I thought this one would be a slow read, since the evidence consists of letters, diaries, interviews, etc. But I found it an entertaining and satisfying read.

It is easy for me to recommend this one. I think mystery lovers will appreciate it. And if you have a love for all things Victorian, then you may really, really LOVE it, just as I did.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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19. The Silmarillion (1977)

The Silmarillion. J.R.R. Tolkien. 1977. 386 pages. [Source: Bought]
 There was Eru, the One, who in Arda is called Ilúvatar; and he made first the Ainur, the Holy Ones, that were the offspring of his thought, and they were with him before aught else was made. And he spoke to them, propounding to them themes of music; and they sang before him, and he was glad. But for a long while they sang only each alone, or but few together, while the rest hearkened; for each comprehended only that part of the mind of Ilúvatar from which he came, and in the understanding of their brethren they grew but slowly. Yet ever as they listened they came to deeper understanding, and increased in unison and harmony. And it came to pass that Ilúvatar called together all the Ainur and declared to them a mighty theme, unfolding to them things greater and more wonderful than he had yet revealed; and the glory of its beginning and the splendour of its end amazed the Ainur, so that they bowed before Ilúvatar and were silent.
I loved reading J.R.R. Tolkien's The Silmarillion. That doesn't mean I found it easy the first time I attempted it. Or even the second. I do think you have to be in the proper mood to fully enjoy it--to appreciate it. There is a beauty to it, a certain grace to the language. Something that you don't see all that often. Something that brings to my mind--at least--the beauty and grace of the Authorized Version of the Bible (KJV). But with that beauty and grace there is a certain strangeness, a foreignness. Something that puts distance between the book and the reader. It's all about the world-building.

The Silmarillion is divided into several sections:
Each section is unique, has its own style or tone. The longest section is Quenta Silmarillion. The section probably with the most reader appeal is Of The Rings of Power and the Third Age.

So is The Silmarillion similar to his other works? Yes and no. There are orcs, dwarves, elves, eagles, dragons, balrogs, wolves, giant spiders, humans, and wizards. And certainly much of The Silmarillion concerns the battle between good and evil. The two main "bad guys" are Melkor (Morgoth) and Sauron. And the book is about greed, ambition, honor, love, and friendship. There's plenty of action, and even some romance. The book features origin or creation stories. So there's a good chance that you can learn more background for putting The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit into context. But it does require some patience perhaps. For example, people rarely have one name--they may have up to a dozen! Turin Turambar comes to mind. I wish I'd known about the family trees at the end of the book while I was actually reading it!

Yes, The Silmarillion is beautifully written. But that isn't its only strength. The world-building is incredibly detailed. Its also packed with stories and interesting characters.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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20. What Is It? Fables & Parables For All Readers

Today I thought I’d take a closer look at the differences between fables and parables and come up with some recommendations for readers of all ages who enjoy a little learning with their leisure. A fable is: a short story that conveys a moral to the reader, typically with animals as characters. A parable is: a short story designed […]

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21. Ross Poldark

Ross Poldark. (Poldark #1) Winston Graham. 1945/2015. Sourcebooks. 400 pages. [Source: Review copy]

It was windy. The pale afternoon sky was shredded with clouds; the road, grown dustier and more uneven in the past hour, was scattered with blown and rustling leaves.

The novel opens* with the book's hero, Ross Poldark, returning to Cornwall in the fall of 1783. He's returning from war, learning that his father is dead--and that his father hasn't left him much money to work his estate (Nampara) with--also that the woman he thought was his one true love is engaged to another man--Ross' cousin, Francis. But Ross Poldark is resilient--stubborn--someone who knows what he wants and has the gumption to fight for what he wants. Mainly, he will not give up on his home and his mine to try to find a life elsewhere. He may be tempted to want to "fight for" Elizabeth. But mainly the battle is internal: more of a fighting to get her out of his mind and heart.

Is the novel a romance? Yes and no. Yes. Ross Poldark thinks he's madly in love with Elizabeth. And yes, the novel does chronicle his romance with Demelza towards the end. But in many ways, it is not a romance novel. Readers meet dozens of characters from all social classes, and, we follow their stories. For example, the dramatic relationship of Jinny and Jim Carter or Verity and Captain Blamey. Readers spend a lot of time with the lower classes, seeing the effects of poverty up close. And there is a sense of injustice at times at how they're treated and the very lack of opportunities that keep them trapped right where they are. At times--in certain situations--Ross is understanding and becomes something of their champion. (Not that this becomes his full-time job, righting the wrongs, fighting injustice, giving voice to those without. It doesn't. But he is a hard worker; he does dirty his own hands and work alongside others.) The more he "becomes one of them" the less his own class wants to do with him--or so it seems. There are always exceptions!

Ross can be impulsive in his wanting to do the right thing. For example, when he brings home a thirteen-year-old Demelza to be his servant. Does the girl desperately want to escape her own miserable home life where she's often beaten? Yes. Very much. Once Ross sees the scars on her back and learns her story, he wants to protect her. So he offers a job. But how will everyone else respond? Will her father let her go without a fight? without trouble? Not likely! And what will his own class think of this decision? They find it strange and unusual!

Readers get to spend a lot of time with Demelza, Jud, and Prudie. (And I was pleasantly surprised to find that Prudie and Jud actually like Demelza in the book and aren't trying to rid themselves of her every five minutes.)

(The novel closes in December of 1787). 

Do I have favorite characters? Yes. I really LOVE Verity. And, of course, Ross and Demelza come to mind as well. If I didn't care about them, then I couldn't like the book overall. And I definitely liked it. I loved, loved, loved some scenes of this one. I didn't love every single scene, every single chapter equally. But there were places I just adored this story.

*The first chapter opens with Ross Poldark returning. Technically, the book has a prologue which introduces readers to Joshua Poldark, Ross' father, who is dying.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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22. At The Back of the North Wind (1871)

At The Back of the North Wind. George MacDonald. 1871. 346 pages. [Source: Bought]

I HAVE been asked to tell you about the back of the north wind.

Do you enjoy reading children's classics? Or enjoy reading children's fantasy novels? There's a chance that you may love George MacDonald's At The Back of the North Wind. I won't lie. It is a good, old-fashioned story packed with morals and symbolism. So maybe it won't satisfy every single reader. Still there is something about it, even if it is is too wholesome for some.

At The Back of the North Wind is Diamond's story. Diamond is a young boy who is completely good and rather odd because of it. He is a bit of an angel, always doing the right thing, always saying the right thing. His intentions are always as pure as can be. But he isn't smug or arrogant. And he does genuinely care for others. So I do not personally see him as being self-righteous or obnoxious. One of Diamond's friends is the North Wind. The first half of the book focuses on this dream-like relationship. At night, he sometimes accompanies her on her journeys. Eventually, he does find his way to the back of the North Wind. The second half of the book focuses on Diamond's family and his personal relationships with his family and friends. The family situation definitely changes throughout the novel. And Diamond's life isn't an easy one. He is an optimist, a dreamer. But the family's struggle is very real and a definite concern to him.

One of Diamond's friends is the kind-hearted Mr. Raymond. Mr. Raymond has a heart for children, especially for poor ones, and he does what he can to help everyone. He is also a story-teller. I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED Mr. Raymond's story called "Little Daylight." Even if you're not interested in reading the whole novel, even if it doesn't sound like your kind of book, you should make time to read this one stand-alone chapter. Especially if you LOVE fairy tales. (And who doesn't love fairy tales?!) I think Little Daylight would make a lovely picture book adaptation.

So I definitely enjoyed this one. Perhaps not as much as The Light Princess. But at least as much as the two Princess books (Princess and the Curdie, Princess and the Goblin).

At the same moment, a peal of thunder which shook Diamond's heart against the sides of his bosom hurtled out of the heavens: I cannot say out of the sky, for there was no sky. Diamond had not seen the lightning, for he had been intent on finding the face of North Wind. Every moment the folds of her garment would sweep across his eyes and blind him, but between, he could just persuade himself that he saw great glories of woman's eyes looking down through rifts in the mountainous clouds over his head.
He trembled so at the thunder, that his knees failed him, and he sunk down at North Wind's feet, and clasped her round the column of her ankle. She instantly stooped, lifted him from the roof—up—up into her bosom, and held him there, saying, as if to an inconsolable child—
"Diamond, dear, this will never do."
"Oh yes, it will," answered Diamond. "I am all right now—quite comfortable, I assure you, dear North Wind. If you will only let me stay here, I shall be all right indeed."
"But you will feel the wind here, Diamond."
"I don't mind that a bit, so long as I feel your arms through it," answered Diamond, nestling closer to her grand bosom.
"Brave boy!" returned North Wind, pressing him closer.
"No," said Diamond, "I don't see that. It's not courage at all, so long as I feel you there."
"But hadn't you better get into my hair? Then you would not feel the wind; you will here."
"Ah, but, dear North Wind, you don't know how nice it is to feel your arms about me. It is a thousand times better to have them and the wind together, than to have only your hair and the back of your neck and no wind at all."
"But it is surely more comfortable there?"
"Well, perhaps; but I begin to think there are better things than being comfortable."
"Yes, indeed there are. Well, I will keep you in front of me. You will feel the wind, but not too much. I shall only want one arm to take care of you; the other will be quite enough to sink the ship."

"You never made that song, Diamond," said his mother.
"No, mother. I wish I had. No, I don't. That would be to take it from somebody else. But it's mine for all that."
"What makes it yours?"
"I love it so."
"Does loving a thing make it yours?"
"I think so, mother—at least more than anything else can. If I didn't love baby (which couldn't be, you know) she wouldn't be mine a bit. But I do love baby, and baby is my very own Dulcimer."
"The baby's mine, Diamond."
"That makes her the more mine, mother."
"How do you make that out?"
"Because you're mine, mother."
"Is that because you love me?"
"Yes, just because. Love makes the only myness," said Diamond.
"What are you reading?" I said, and spoke suddenly, with the hope of seeing a startled little face look round at me. Diamond turned his head as quietly as if he were only obeying his mother's voice, and the calmness of his face rebuked my unkind desire and made me ashamed of it.
"I am reading the story of the Little Lady and the Goblin Prince," said Diamond.
"I am sorry I don't know the story," I returned. "Who is it by?"
"Mr. Raymond made it."
"Is he your uncle?" I asked at a guess.
"No. He's my master."
"What do you do for him?" I asked respectfully.
"Anything he wishes me to do," he answered. "I am busy for him now. He gave me this story to read. He wants my opinion upon it."
"Don't you find it rather hard to make up your mind?"
"Oh dear no! Any story always tells me itself what I'm to think about it. Mr. Raymond doesn't want me to say whether it is a clever story or not, but whether I like it, and why I like it. I never can tell what they call clever from what they call silly, but I always know whether I like a story or not."
"And can you always tell why you like it or not?" "No. Very often I can't at all. Sometimes I can. I always know, but I can't always tell why.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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23. Classic MG Discussion: Trixie Belden #1

Jeepers! It’s time to discuss The Secret of the Mansion, the first book in the classic Trixie Belden mystery series from the 1940s. As always, we do these discussions with the hope that you’ll check out these classics for yourself even if you didn’t have the chance to read them with us, but do be aware that there are spoilers in the chat below. Wendy: I loved Trixie as a kid, so I was very eager to revisit these. I distinctly remember my grade-school self daydreaming about having an almost-twin and wanting desperately to be in a club with secret signals. Kim, I’d forgotten you aren’t a big mystery fan, so I appreciate your forbearance with the occasional one I slip into these readalongs! Kim: I had literally never heard of Trixie Belden before it was suggested for our readalong! Wendy, no worries! I am not usually a huge mystery person but this... Read more »

The post Classic MG Discussion: Trixie Belden #1 appeared first on The Midnight Garden.

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24. Liz’s Summer Reading Pick

Time of Wonder

 by Robert McCloskey

           How could I begin my Liz’s Summer Picks with any other book than Robert McCloskey’s Time of Wonder?  Winner of The Caldecott Medal as “The most distinguished picture book of 1958,” it is a classic picture book, if the word classic still has meaning in this genre. His observations of one matchless summer season in the islands in and around Penobscot Bay in Maine are evocative, beautifully illustrated and reflective as the moods of the seasons and the sea he describes through the eyes of two children.

Out on the islands that poke their rocky shores above the waters of

Penobscot Bay you can watch the time of the world go by from minute

to minute, hour to hour, from day to day, season to season.

           Whether diving off rocks on the island’s point made by glaciers eons ago into icy cold water, sailing among the islands where mother seals nurse their babies in Swain’s Cove Ledges, watching porpoises at sunset “puffing and playing around your boat”, days build with a lazy momentum. It captures the pulse and promise of life lived by this family of four that is unhurried enough to savor the moments. But these small moments of discovery build to a sense and signal that the winds inevitably change to something quite eventful. Nature can change in a moment with a sudden ferocity coming ashore, blowing the cozy cabin door open sending people, Parcheesi boards and papers flying.

            There is gentleness to McCloskey’s book that gives the eye and ear time to sense and explore with the children the feeling of this island respite in Maine. And there is a sweet sadness at its close as another summer ends and school beckons with the quickening pace of life off island. The time you and your children will spend there is time lived fully and intimately with nature and the natural pace she sets. It is a time of wonder you will long remember and savor with your child again and again.

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25. The Life of Charlotte Bronte (1857)

The Life of Charlotte Bronte. Elizabeth Gaskell. 1857/1975. Penguin Classics. 623 pages. [Source: Bought]

I should have read it years ago. I really should have. I simply loved, loved, loved Elizabeth Gaskell's biography of Charlotte Bronte. Yes, it's packed with information on the Brontes. But it's more than that. It's how this information is conveyed, it's how the story is written that makes it a compelling read. Not many biographies are impossible to put down. This one was. Gaskell, in many ways, let Charlotte Bronte speak for herself by sharing so many letters or excerpts from letters. One really gets a sense of "knowing" from reading it. And that isn't always the case with biographies, though it is sometimes the case with autobiographies. I appreciated Gaskell's narrative voice very much. It was a real treat. Anyone who loves Victorian literature should read this one. Or anyone who loves Jane Eyre or any other Bronte novel.

I read for the same reason that I ate or drank; because it was a real craving of nature. I wrote on the same principle as I spoke--out of the impulse and feelings of the mind; nor could I help it, for what came, came out, and there was the end of it. ~ Charlotte Bronte in a letter to Mr. Wordsworth, 1837
It is very edifying and profitable to create a world out of your own brains, and people it with inhabitants, who are so many Melchisedecs, and have no father nor mother but your own imagination. ~ Charlotte Bronte, 1840
Some of my greatest difficulties lie in things that would appear to you comparatively trivial. ~ Charlotte Bronte, 1841
Write to me often; very long letters. It will do both of us good. ~ Charlotte Bronte, 1841
If I could, I would always work in silence and obscurity, and let my efforts be known by their results. ~ Charlotte Bronte, 1841
They wanted learning. They came for learning. They would learn. Where they had a distinct purpose to be achieved in intercourse with their fellows, they forgot themselves; at all other times they were miserably shy. ~ Elizabeth Gaskell about Charlotte and Emily going to Brussells 
Any one who has studied her writings,—whether in print or in her letters; any one who has enjoyed the rare privilege of listening to her talk, must have noticed her singular felicity in the choice of words. She herself, in writing her books, was solicitous on this point. One set of words was the truthful mirror of her thoughts; no others, however apparently identical in meaning, would do. She had that strong practical regard for the simple holy truth of expression, which Mr. Trench has enforced, as a duty too often neglected. She would wait patiently searching for the right term, until it presented itself to her. It might be provincial, it might be derived from the Latin; so that it accurately represented her idea, she did not mind whence it came; but this care makes her style present the finish of a piece of mosaic. Each component part, however small, has been dropped into the right place. She never wrote down a sentence until she clearly understood what she wanted to say, had deliberately chosen the words, and arranged them in their right order. Hence it comes that, in the scraps of paper covered with her pencil writing which I have seen, there will occasionally be a sentence scored out, but seldom, if ever, a word or an expression. She wrote on these bits of paper in a minute hand, holding each against a piece of board, such as is used in binding books, for a desk. This plan was necessary for one so short-sighted as she was; and, besides, it enabled her to use pencil and paper, as she sat near the fire in the twilight hours, or if (as was too often the case) she was wakeful for hours in the night. Her finished manuscripts were copied from these pencil scraps, in clear, legible, delicate traced writing, almost as easy to read as print. ~ Elizabeth Gaskell about Charlotte Bronte's writing habits
Even at the risk of appearing very exacting, I can't help saying that I should like a letter as long as your last, every time you write. Short notes give one the feeling of a very small piece of a very good thing to eat,—they set the appetite on edge, and don't satisfy it,—a letter leaves you more contented; and yet, after all, I am very glad to get notes; so don't think, when you are pinched for time and materials, that it is useless to write a few lines; be assured, a few lines are very acceptable as far as they go; and though I like long letters, I would by no means have you to make a task of writing them. . . . ~ Charlotte Bronte, 1847
If "Jane Eyre" has any solid worth in it, it ought to weather a gust of unfavourable wind. ~ Charlotte Bronte, 1847
If I ever DO write another book, I think I will have nothing of what you call 'melodrama;' I think so, but I am not sure. I THINK, too, I will endeavour to follow the counsel which shines out of Miss Austen's 'mild eyes,' 'to finish more and be more subdued;' but neither am I sure of that. When authors write best, or, at least, when they write most fluently, an influence seems to waken in them, which becomes their master—which will have its own way—putting out of view all behests but its own, dictating certain words, and insisting on their being used, whether vehement or measured in their nature; new-moulding characters, giving unthought of turns to incidents, rejecting carefully-elaborated old ideas, and suddenly creating and adopting new ones. ~ Charlotte Bronte, 1848
Every one has a right to form his own conclusion respecting the merits and demerits of a book. I complain not of the judgment which the reviewer passes on "Jane Eyre." Opinions as to its tendency varied then, as they do now. While I write, I receive a letter from a clergyman in America in which he says: "We have in our sacred of sacreds a special shelf, highly adorned, as a place we delight to honour, of novels which we recognise as having had a good influence on character OUR character. Foremost is 'Jane Eyre.' ~ Elizabeth Gaskell on book reviews
I wish you did not think me a woman. I wish all reviewers believed 'Currer Bell' to be a man; they would be more just to him. You will, I know, keep measuring me by some standard of what you deem becoming to my sex; where I am not what you consider graceful, you will condemn me. All mouths will be open against that first chapter; and that first chapter is true as the Bible, nor is it exceptionable. Come what will, I cannot, when I write, think always of myself and of what is elegant and charming in femininity; it is not on those terms, or with such ideas, I ever took pen in hand: and if it is only on such terms my writing will be tolerated, I shall pass away from the public and trouble it no more. Out of obscurity I came, to obscurity I can easily return. Standing afar off, I now watch to see what will become of 'Shirley.' My expectations are very low, and my anticipations somewhat sad and bitter; still, I earnestly conjure you to say honestly what you think; flattery would be worse than vain; there is no consolation in flattery. As for condemnation I cannot, on reflection, see why I should much fear it; there is no one but myself to suffer therefrom, and both happiness and suffering in this life soon pass away. ~ Charlotte Bronte, 1849
You say that you suspect I have formed a large circle of acquaintance by this time. No: I cannot say that I have. I doubt whether I possess either the wish or the power to do so. A few friends I should like to have, and these few I should like to know well. ~ Charlotte Bronte, 1850
I have read Tennyson's 'In Memoriam,' or rather part of it; I closed the book when I had got about half way. It is beautiful; it is mournful; it is monotonous. ~ Charlotte Bronte, 1850
It is my intention to write a few lines of remark on 'Wuthering Heights,' which, however, I propose to place apart as a brief preface before the tale. I am likewise compelling myself to read it over, for the first time of opening the book since my sister's death. Its power fills me with renewed admiration; but yet I am oppressed: the reader is scarcely ever permitted a taste of unalloyed pleasure; every beam of sunshine is poured down through black bars of threatening cloud; every page is surcharged with a sort of moral electricity; and the writer was unconscious of all this—nothing could make her conscious of it. And this makes me reflect,—perhaps I am too incapable of perceiving the faults and peculiarities of my own style. ~ Charlotte Bronte, 1850
You charge me to write about myself. What can I say on that precious topic? My health is pretty good. My spirits are not always alike. Nothing happens to me. I hope and expect little in this world, and am thankful that I do not despond and suffer more. ~ Charlotte Bronte, 1851
Even if it should turn out reasonably well, still I regard it as ruin to the prosperity of an ephemeral book like a novel, to be much talked of beforehand, as if it were something great. People are apt to conceive, or at least to profess, exaggerated expectation, such as no performance can realise; then ensue disappointment and the due revenge, detraction, and failure.~ Charlotte Bronte, 1852

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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