Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Postcards from a Dead Girl by Kirk Farber

Postcards from a Dead Girl by Kirk Farber
Copyright 2010
Harper Perennial - Fiction/General
258 pages
Kirk Farber's website
Very nice (and short) video interview w/Farber

Just be, I think, just be. It's agonizing. Jane seems to have no problem just being. She has beautiful eyes, even when they're closed. The balls of light let out a collective happy humming sound, vibrate off their mats and float to their body-transportation devices.

Jane rolls up her mat and pretends not to notice me noticing her. She takes a few pulls from her purple water-bottle and with great purpose begins her stroll down the side of Cherry Hill. And here I sit, just being.

This review may be a little gushy. Remember, I've given you fair warning.

When I picked up Postcards from a Dead Girl and began reading, I have to admit that I was completely stunned. I wasn't expecting to have quite so much fun and it was different from what I expected when I read the blurb. Different in a very, very good way.

Sid has experienced a tragic loss and he's not doing very well. He's begun to receive postcards from all over the world -- from his dead girlfriend. Is she really alive, after all, or on some sort of cosmic journey? Is it possible someone's playing a really bad joke on him?

He takes a break from his meaningless job to follow the path of the postcards but his budget doesn't allow him to go everywhere and eventually Sid has to return home to face his problems. Like, why is his mother's spirit living in a wine bottle and where is that lilac smell coming from? Can he find a way to acquire the comfort of a spa mud bath without spending the money? And, who is going to help him get his act together, now that his even-tempered sister is a pregnant, hormonal mess?

Kirk Farber has described Postcards from a Dead Girl as a "dark comedy" and I would not have ever thought to use those words but I think that's a perfect capsule description and, most important, it's a great story. When I picked it up, I knew within pages that I was in trouble; that book was going to keep me up all night. Fortunately, it's a relatively quick read. If Farber ever writes a 700-page book, then I'll be in deep doo-doo.

5/5 - Postcards from a Dead Girl is touching, funny, quirky, lovely little book with believable characters, a unique storyline and a terrific conclusion. Highly recommended. I absolutely loved this book. PG-13 for a little sex and drinking but it's nothing that will warp a child for life.

I've spoken to the author because I was so crazy about his book that I figured I'd make one of those rare exceptions and ask him to either do a guest post or interview. We settled on a guest post, so that will be coming up soon. Wahoo!

Squishy huggy thanks to Erica and HarperPerennial for the review copy!!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Flyaway by Suzie Gilbert

Flyaway: How a Wild Bird Rehabber Sought Adventure and Found Her Wings by Suzie Gilbert
Copyright 2009
HarperPerennial - Nonfiction/Memoir/Nature
340 pages
Author's website

I carried the duckling into the kitchen, where John and the kids had materialized. The tiny duckling's appearance caused a waterfall of elongated vowel sounds, with only one family member withholding approval.
"Aaaaaaaaaah!" breathed Skye.
"Oooooooooohh!" sighed Mac.
"Awwww!" crooned John.
"War!" shouted Mario.
We all looked at each other.
"I've never heard him say that before," said Mac.
"Maybe African greys [parrots] don't like ducks," said Skye.

My friend India Howell, with whom I lived on the farm in Maine, took a trip to climb Mount Kilimanjaro when she was in her mid-forties. She had never been to Africa and knew little about the Tanzanian people, outside of the occasional news reports of villages devastated by poverty and AIDS. But while she was on vacation she was offered a job as manager of a safari company, and when she moved to Arusha she began to encounter the street kids mentioned in the news reports. Once befriended they were no longer nameless and faceless, and no longer the blurry part of a problem too large to address. India founded and now runs the Rift Valley Children's Village, an orphanage outside Keratu, and she channels certain donations to help the surrounding villages.

Wildlife rehabilitators find themselves in the same position but faced with a more skeptical public, many of whom seem to believe that wild animals are little more than programmed robots. Some loudly and indignantly question why rehabbers "waste" their time with animals when they could be helping people, a query even more absurd than asking a pilot why he or she is not a firefighter. Just as India saw something in the children of Tanzania that she could not turn away from, so rehabilitators see something in a wild animal that can be found nowhere else. We crave a connection--no matter how brief or tenuous--with a wild creature, and we are willing to play by rules that seem designed to break our hearts in order to do it.

We clean, feed, study, attend conferences, amass arcane knowledge, and learn to handle the creatures who fear us. Our triumph is to accept an injured wild animal, treat its injuries, carefully learn each one of its quirks and preference, help it heal, and then let it go. If things go according to plan, we will never see it again.

Somehow, this is enough.

I'm going to use my old Q/A format for this one because I made the mistake of stepping onto the treadmill and wore myself to a frazzle. I need prompting.

What led you to pick up this book? I asked to review it for TLC Book Tours because I'm a nature freak (see bluebird header and evil, bird-killing, outdoor, not-my-cat footer) and there was a wildlife rehabber in one of my online writing groups, many years ago. She told some great stories and I found her life fascinating, so I figured the book would be interesting. I was right.

Describe the book without giving anything away. Flyaway is the memoir of Suzie Gilbert, who rehabilitates and re-releases injured birds in New York. Flyaway, Inc. is the name of her nonprofit organization. Suzie gives the reader a little background about not fitting in the regular job world and how she ended up finding her passion. Then, she skips ahead to finding herself married with two children, considering whether or not to build a couple of large flight cages to take on birds that just needed to be moved to a flight cage before being released back into the wild. She had the flight cages built and began taking in birds (in New York, rehabbers cannot profit from the treatment of wild animals).

What she didn't bank on was her inability to say "no" -- which led to taking on a lot more than mostly-healed birds -- and the time commitment involved in rehabbing, particularly in the job of raising tiny nestlings that had lost their parents. Nestlings have to be fed every 30 minutes, so Suzie got help from her two young children and carried a basket of nestlings with her whenever she had to leave her home. She describes the birds she treated, their personalities, how she dealt with the occasional deaths, and how rehabbing impacted her family life.

What did you think of the real-life characters in this book? I thought they were, for the most part, amazing. Suzie is a deeply caring person who describes the birds she cares for in ways that might startle you. I read Enslaved by Ducks, a few years ago, and what really jumped out at me when I read Enslaved was author Bob Tarte's descriptions of individual bird personalities. Truly, we do tend to lump wildlife into the "just an animal" category and overlook the fact that wild animals have very distinctive, individual personalities, just like humans and our pets.

Like the author of Enslaved by Ducks Suzie Gilbert describes the birds she treated as individuals. Most of the people she worked with were also pretty amazing -- other rehabbers, veterinarians, friends -- even her family members, who were infinitely patient and good-humored. The only people I found that I disliked were one woman who badgered Suzie into taking on birds she'd specifically said she couldn't handle and the ignorant and/or cruel people who harmed birds.

What did you like most about the book? I enjoyed learning about the process of rehabbing and the personalities of the animals, but what I loved most was the fact that the book is hilarious. At times, I laughed so hard I had tears streaming down my face. There are some really sad moments, horror stories of humans abusing animals and, in the end, the author had to ease up or go nuts. But, I adored her sense of humor. Flyaway is a really funny book.

Was there anything you didn't like about the book? No, there was nothing I disliked about the book at all, but it's always such a bummer to read about animals that have been deliberately shot, run over or in some other way harmed for no reason whatsoever. That's a mentality I simply cannot understand. When I stand beneath a tree, looking up at a red-shouldered hawk or watching a redtail fly, I am awestruck. The idea that people would deliberately harm such amazing animals baffles and angers me.

What, if anything, did you find surprising about the book? I had no idea outdoor cats kill such a huge quantity of bird life and are, in fact, one of the leading dangers to dwindling songbird populations. Thank goodness Fiona is an indoor cat (for her safety and longevity; the fact that she isn't killing birds is a nice bonus).

Recommended? Absolutely. In fact, I think everyone should read this book, if only to step outside of their comfort zone and learn about the creatures we often dismiss as background noise -- that's if you're even lucky enough to live somewhere that you can see and hear a variety of bird life (I am).

5/5 - Excellent writing, fascinating stories, an educational, entertaining, engaging, laugh-out-loud funny, touching and sometimes sad book. Just as a side note, I picked up the book on Sunday night and read 200 pages in one sitting. And, then I realized I'd better get some sleep or I was going to be a zombie, so I put it down and finished it up on Monday.

I love that cover, don't you? Thanks to TLC Tours, HarperPerennial, the author, and the U.S. Postal Service (because it arrived safely) for my copy.

Tuesday Twaddle - in which the entire family becomes crazed and eats yarn

Okay, just one of us ate yarn but we were all pretty crazed, this weekend.

There hasn't been a great deal of posting going on around here because I was sidelined by an 8- or 9-day migraine (I lost count) that went through the weekend. Layered over that bit of joy was some teen angst as the Kiddo helped his father do yardwork and came down with a raging case of poison ivy. He overslept the Saturday clinic hours and even our insurance company, with a toll-free hotline and a book-sized list of preferred and non-preferred providers could not find a single clinic open on Sunday -- including within the Jackson metropolitan area (the Big City).

Call us the House of Whine. I slathered the Kiddo with some old prescription-strength cortisone that I happened across, doped him with benadryl and we all piled in the car to go to Jackson for a distraction because even the on-call doctor had told the messaging service not to accept anything but "serious emergency calls", meaning, "Have him meet me at the hospital"-type calls. Sheesh.

These books just came in the mail, which helped to assuage the misery of coming off the weekend -- seriously, we're still working on calming down. Especially the cat.

Top to bottom:

Keeper - Kathi Appelt

She's So Dead to Us - Kieran Scott

The Blue Orchard - Jackson Taylor

The Finishing Touches - Hester Browne

Shadow Princess - Indu Sundaresan (all 5 appear to be from Simon & Schuster, if the cat and I did a halfway decent job of reading -- and sniffing - the envelopes)

Jane's Fame - Claire Harman (from Henry Holt)

Argh, stupid blogger spacing. I didn't intend to skip lines, there. Grrr.

Dead End Gene Pool by Wendy Burden (from Lisa at Books on the Brain) showed up shortly after that stack. And, I got a little pile from a wonderful blogging buddy whose enthusiasm makes me look like I've been dipped in blue funk. They included:

Benny and Shrimp - Katarina Mazetti

Green Grass, Running Water - Thomas King

Should I admit that as soon as the big pile of books arrived, I promptly spilled my drink and had to blow-dry my copy of Keeper? No, probably not. Hmm, the floor still feels a bit sticky, too. Better fix that.

Since that migraine lasted nearly all last week, I only managed to finish a single book (not including the children's books I reviewed -- all of which I've read at least twice) and that was The Lotus Eaters. Since I reviewed it, I'm only two book reviews behind.

Benjamin Pratt & the Keepers of the School by Andrew Clements is one. In fact, let's just get this over with, shall we?

Subtitled, "We the Children", Benj. Pratt, etc. is the first in a series for middle readers. Ben is thrust into a mystery when the school janitor hands Ben a special coin whilst having a medical crisis and then the janitor is hauled off to the hospital, where he dies. A developer has his sights on the school's prime waterfront property and plans to tear it down, but there are secrets in the school and Ben is the new keeper. He and his best friend must unravel the mystery while he deals with trouble on the home front (parents who have separated; spending time in two different homes).

What I loved: The story is adventurous, gripping, clever and fun. Benjamin's best friend is a girl and she's really the brainy one.

What I disliked: It's one of those books that just ends abruptly, apparently as a lure to continue the series. I hate it when a book doesn't end. It's not necessary to torment people to get them to purchase a second book. Also, there's a good bit of throwing up -- it can be gross, at times. I just ignored that.

I'd rate it a 4.5/5 for the storyline (ignoring the yucky bits) and 2/5 for annoying non-ending, which probably averages out to about 3.5 and gives you an idea how messed up a week of migraine can make a girl. Let's call it a 4/5. It was fun, after all, and clever.

Just finished:

Flyaway by Suzie Gilbert - the memoir of a wildlife rehabber who specialized only in birds and nearly worked herself to pieces. That will be next because I must post tomorrow for a book tour (and it was fabulous, so I hope I'll do a good job of describing it), but then I'll backtrack and review . . .

Postcards from a Dead Girl by Kirk Farber - One of the most entertaining, touching, quirky, funny, delightful books I've read in 2010. The author has agreed to do a guest post for my blog because I told him how much I loved his book and he's a nice guy, so that will probably show up Friday. Maybe Saturday because I have some really good potential Fiona Friday pics.

I think that's all, for now. I really do have to work on the sticky spot that keeps grabbing my socks and then I have to hop on the treadmill because I've been bad and it shows. Happy Tuesday!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Fiona Friday

Caught! No, really, that's not a guilty look. The towels attacked her, first.

Speaking of attacks . . . Desmond had to go back home with his mama. Fiona Did. Not. Like. Claws and teeth came out on his second night and the family was unable to sleep due to the all-night cat fight. We were sad to see him go, but just a little bit relieved. It took everyone (including Fiona) a full two days to recover.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli

The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli
Copyright 2010
St. Martin's Press - Fiction/War
386 pages
Tatjana Soli's website

Helen Adams has spent a dozen years in Vietnam, an American photojournalist who arrived in the country knowing little about photography but determined to succeed. Now, Saigon is falling and foreigners are rushing to evacuate.

Helen finds herself torn. She has come to love the country and the men who shared this war with her. As she and her injured lover hurry to safety, Helen reflects back upon her years in Vietnam, the fear and triumph, love and horror. Will she make it out of this country alive? ***

***Note: There is a small inaccuracy in this description to avoid spoilers. The book jacket for my ARC also shares this inaccuracy, although the description above was written in my own words.

There are so many adjectives to describe this book that I'm not quite sure where to begin. Helen is a fascinating character. Why would a woman leave the safety of home for the muck and horror of a war zone? I think that would be a bit of a spoiler, actually, but Helen has her reasons. Yet, the reality is a shock to her and I think that's why the The Lotus Eaters is the kind of story that really sucks you in.

When Helen arrives in Vietnam, she's more frightened than expected; and, Tatjana Soli paints a portrait of Helen with a great deal of emotional depth and plenty of grit. She doesn't tiptoe around the terror and gore of war. Yet, the story is not all harrowing and gritty. It's also about love and loss, devotion and betrayal, beauty and regret. It's about the contrasts -- an exotically beautiful country devastated by war; people who mean well but brush off horrible mistakes in order to survive; a woman in a man's world and the inner conflict she must deal with in addition to her battle for acceptance.

The Lotus Eaters is a hard read, simply because of its setting, but it's a deeply felt, truthful read. There is a ring of accuracy, a melancholy tone, and a haunting rhythm to the prose.

What I liked most about the book was that it felt real; I always had the sense that I was there with Helen. Helen, Sam and Linh, the three main characters, are well-developed and raw. At times it's almost as if you know them too well, so well it hurts. As with other books that are dark, I had to take breaks and read something a bit lighter for an hour or a day, now and then, but that's a good thing because the Vietnam War was, of course, clearly a long, drawn-out horror.

The one complaint I have with the book is that I thought the author's writing was a little too fragmented. I think it was deliberate, to evoke the harsh atmosphere. And, yet, at times I felt like the use of sentence fragments was less an effective tool and more an annoying intrusion by the author. I was a little too aware of Tatjana Soli telling a story, in other words. It's a small complaint, not worth dwelling upon.

4/5 - At once lovely and horrifying, an excellent tale of one woman's determination to make her way in a time and place filled with contrasts. Packed with the senses, you'll leave this book feeling like you were there. R-rated in its accurate descriptions of gore, but PG, otherwise. In spite of the war setting, there's not a lot of rough dialogue and while Helen almost always has a lover, sex is not described in detail.

My thanks to the author and TLC Book Tours for the advance reader provided for review. My copy will be traveling, soon, in a box that will go cross-country. I have no idea who will end up with The Lotus Eaters, but it will find a happy new home.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

That Cat Can't Stay by Krasnesky and Parkins - #5 for Children's Day

That Cat Can't Stay by Thad Krasnesky
Illustrated by David Parkins
Copyright 2010
Flashlight Press - Children, Ages 4-8
32 pages

That Cat Can't Stay begins on a rainy day. The mother of the narrator's family stands in a raincoat, holding a sad-looking cat. It's a stray and Dad doesn't like cats, so he says,

That creature cannot stay.

There's no use begging.
Don't say please.
I don't like cats.
They scratch my knees.
And I don't want to have to shout,
so kindly put
that cat-thing out.

Mom is tricky, though. She tells Dad she'll just put that cat back outside in the rain and hail, no matter how drenched he's going to get and Dad says, "Well . . . "

So begins the delightful rhyming tale of how one little family with three children adopts 4 full-grown cats in need; and, then the cat-loving narrator (a daughter in pigtails) brings home a kitten in the hood of her jacket. I loved this book so much that I forced my husband to listen to it and turned the book around to show off the illustrations as if I was reading to a class of kindergarteners.

That Cat Can't Stay is one of the cutest children's books I've ever had the pleasure to review. The rhyme is repetitive and catchy, the illustrations are expressive and often hilarious (the looks on those cats' faces are a hoot -- not to mention Dad, who turns out to be a softie). The book even has a funny twist when, after adopting 5 cats, the father goes to the pound and brings home a dog.

Story in rhyme: 5/5 - Clever, charming, rhythmic and funny.

Illustrations: 5/5 - Absolutely perfect. The entire family and all of the cats are colorful and so expressive you can't help but smile.

This is such a cheery, satisfying book that I've found myself wishing I had small children around whenever I read it. But, Fiona and I will happily read That Cat Can't Stay together, for now.

That Cat Can't Stay is book #5 for Children's Day. I'm getting a headache and I think 5 reviews are more than enough for one day, so that's it for today! Happy Reading!!

Maybe I'll Sleep in the Bathtub Tonight by Levy & Buscema - #4 for Children's Day

Maybe I'll Sleep in the Bathtub Tonight and Other Funny Bedtime Poems
By Debbie Levy
Illustrated by Stephanie Buscema
Copyright 2010 - Sterling Publishing/Children's Poetry
24 pages


Rock-a-bye baby,
on the tree top,
you know the rest--
that baby goes plop.
Did people really
stick babies in trees?
This song is a nightmare!
Next lullaby, please.

I had a book of funny poems similar to those in Maybe I'll Sleep in the Bathtub Tonight, as a child, and I absolutely loved them. I nearly read that book to death and it's easy to visualize this book being read to tattered shreds, although it has a beautiful hard cover and should last a good long time. Great for reading at bedtime or for older children to read on their own, the rhymes are cute and silly, the illustrations bright and cheerful.

Poems: 5/5 - Cute, humorous rhymes that children and adults will love to giggle over together and older children will enjoy reading on their own.

Illustrations: 5/5 - Gorgeous, slightly retro-looking illustrations, bright and colorful and just a little bit silly.

This is book #4 for Children's Day. Believe it or not, there is still more to come!

Great Expectations Classic Starts - #3 for Children's Day

Great Expectations (Classic Starts) by Charles Dickens
Retold by Deanna McFadden
Illustrated by Eric Freeberg
Copyright 2010 - Sterling Children's Books
Ages 9-12
152 pages

Classic Starts is a line of classic stories, retold and illustrated for youngsters. Retellings have been done and redone, over the years. This is the first time I've managed to read a retelling of Great Expectations.

I read the original Great Expectations by Charles Dickens two or three years ago and loved it. Does this retelling live up to the beauty of Dickens' writing? I'd say not even close. It lacks the wit and humor, the depth of character development and, of course, some of the storyline had to go. But, I like retellings of classics for two reasons:

1. They serve as an excellent introduction, especially to the lengthier and/or dense classics that some youngsters aren't ready to wade through.
2. Even adults can be intimidated by classics and reading a children's version before tackling the original can be surprisingly helpful. I've read children's versions of a couple of Shakespeare's works and then returned to the original, when reading outside of a classroom setting. I think sometimes they're a better option than Cliff's notes.

What I missed most in this book was the character development of Joe Gargery. Joe was my favorite character because he had such a big heart and I particularly missed my favorite line, "She were a fine figure of a woman." Joe's devotion and admiration for his wife put her character into perspective and was also touching and beautiful.

I like Dickens' flowery language but for younger readers, I'm sure Victorian prose can be really difficult to understand. At times, I found some of Dickens' sentences twisty and garbled. This book cuts through the flowers and goes straight to the dirt, making the storyline clear.

Story: 3.5/5 - Nicely told, but lacking the original's wit, humor, flowery language and character development.

Illustrations: 4/5 - Very nice, detailed pencil illustrations add flair to the book.

This is #3 for Children's Day. Still more to come!

Potty Animals by H. Vestergaard & V. Petrone - #2 for Children's Day

Potty Animals: What to Know When You've Gotta Go
By Hope Vestergaard
Illustrated by Valeria Petrone
Copyright 2010
Sterling Publ. - Children's (Post-potty training)
32 pages

Potty Animals is an absolutely hilarious book of toilet manners that had me laughing out loud. Written in rhyme with an emphatic one-sentence summary to finish each lesson, the book reminds children to wash their hands, close the door, remember not to wait too long, lift the toilet seat, use the bathroom before bedtime, etc. I wish I'd had this book when my children were young. It's a cheerful, funny, entertaining way to learn some proper manners.

A final page summarizes all the lessons in one brightly-colored speech cloud.

Storyline: 5/5 - Wonderful - A terrific teaching tool for parents and teachers.

Illustrations: 5/5 - Adorable, big-headed animals in bright, colorful designs clearly illustrate each lesson.

This is #2 for Children's Day! More to come.

The Fox and the Hen by Eric Battut - #1 for Children's Day

The Fox and the Hen by Eric Battut
Copyright 2010
Sterling Publishing - Children's Fiction/Picture Book
Ages 4-8, according to Giant Online Book Retailer To Remain Unnamed
32 pages

Henrietta Hen is not the smartest hen on the block. In The Fox and the Hen, Henrietta lays an egg. When she's approached by the wily Red Fox, Henrietta cheerfully hands over her egg in exchange for a juicy worm. The rest of the animals on her farm know better and they inform Henrietta that she's made a big mistake. Her egg is precious and Red Fox will eat it.

Warning: This is a spoilery review. But, if you're not a 4-year-old, it probably doesn't matter.

Convinced that she must have her egg back, Henrietta goes on a mission. With the help of the other farm animals, she offers numerous other food items in exchange for her egg. Each time she is refused and the fox mentions a different manner of eating the egg -- poached, hard-boiled, scrambled, etc. Red Fox does a lot of thinking about how to prepare his egg. Eventually, Henrietta comes up with a plan. She'll find a bigger egg to use in trade. But, instead of an egg, she finds a large stone. The animals paint it and Henrietta offers it to Red Fox in exchange for her egg.

The plan works and Henrietta's chick hatches the moment she and the egg are safe.

I think I'm going to disagree with the Giant Online Book Retailer and say that this book could easily be read to children as young and fidgety as 18 months because it's a fairly short book. It probably just depends on the child. I read to mine when they were so small they couldn't roll over and I think the older the child who reads this, the more they'll question just how stupid it is for a hen to give away her own egg -- not a bad thing. Critical thinking skills start early.

The illustrations are bold and eye-catching; the color scheme on the cover (heavily red) continues throughout The Fox and the Hen.

Storyline: 3.5/5 - not so hot, but the sentences are simple and I do think this book would be great for starting readers, if the stupidity of the hen doesn't bother them.

Illustrations: 4.5/5 - excellent; small children who are past the tearing stage will probably love to sit quietly and turn the pages, if only to enjoy the illustrations.

This is #1 for Children's Day. More reviews of children's books forthcoming.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Furreigner

We have a visitor under our futon:

His name is Desmond and he is the biggest cat I've ever seen. He must weigh 20 pounds. He's 3 years old and his owner doesn't want him. She says they've never "bonded", that she's keeping her old kitty but she wants to find a good home for Desmond. There was a whole lot of subtext in our conversation. Her husband has already moved, he has an apartment, but "some apartments only allow one cat." She didn't say the apartment to which she's moving allows only one cat. "And, then there's the deposit money." She doesn't think he's worth a deposit. Sheesh.

If he ever comes out from under the futon, I guess we'll see if he's a good fit for our family, but the guys already want him. They think Desmond's mama is icky for wanting to ditch him, whether she cares about who ends up with him or not. I tend to agree. It's not what I expected. I thought I'd get tiny sibling kittens and I came home with a 6-month-old Fiona. I said I didn't want older kitties and I may end up with a 3-year-old cat. My husband shrugs. "He needs us. But, we may have to change that name."

Addendum: I've just drawn the names for my Sterling Kids Giveaway and the winners will be contacted privately. I don't feel like dedicating a post to the drawing, so I'll stick the winners' names in the sidebar.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

A Thought for Sunday (a tad early)

Before I put another book in the giveaway pile, there's a thought-provoking quote I thought I should record for future reference ('cause I like it and I agree):

I've resisted letting the Scripture speak to me as insight into God on a regular basis. And I'll confess that I've done this mostly because I haven't liked the way Scripture has been used on and around me in my life, the way others have read it in bits and pieces that corresponded to their worldviews, the way they have read those particular bits literally and focused on the things with which they agreed and ignored the things they didn't.

How can people of faith make the Bible an important part of their lives despite all the ways it's been read and misread, used and misused over the centuries?

We have to start with an understanding that what the Bible has to say is not just what its primary advocates in our culture think it has to say. And reading it in a way that pulls those other things--peace, justice, love, forgiveness, reconciliation, radical faith, daily practice--back to the forefront.

--from pages 84 and 85 of No Idea by Greg Garrett

The Invention of Everything Else by Samantha Hunt

The Invention of Everything Else
by Samantha Hunt
Copyright 2008
Mariner Books - Fiction
257 pages, incl. notes

The Invention of Everything Else is a fictional account of a friendship between Nikola Tesla, the inventor who held the original patents for radio and alternating current electricity, and a young lady who worked as a maid in the New Yorker hotel. It's set primarily in the 1940's and it's . . . a little weird. But, it's also rather lovely, in its way. Occasionally, the story goes backward in time to fill in a little bit of historical background about Tesla.

Tesla was a Serbian engineer who moved to the U.S., lived in hotels, never married, was obsessed with his inventions but thought they belonged to the world, loved pigeons and considered one particular pigeon his wife. He was friends with Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain, whom he refers to as "Sam" in the book. The author used an actual incident that took place with Clemens in Tesla's lab in the book. Hunt really did imprint her fictional tale upon the reality very nicely but there were times that I didn't quite understand why the book went in a particular direction and I think perhaps that has to do with my lack of knowledge about Tesla.

Tesla was obviously an unusual fellow. I thought he was decently portrayed as a man who lived for science and never stopped thinking of new ideas but who became more bizarre as the years passed. I liked the fact that he wasn't described as simply obsessed; he was very emotional about the theft of his ideas and the cruelty of man. It would have been easy to portray him as completely lacking in emotion, but Samantha Hunt did her homework. He was apparently a man of extreme highs and lows; and, the author made it clear how easy it would be for a man who was basically jerked around, considered flaky if not totally alien, and certainly misunderstood to eventually withdraw and think of pigeons as his best friends.

Louisa, the hotel maid who "befriends" Tesla in the book, is totally fictional. Louisa accidentally becomes acquainted with Tesla because she's a snoop. She closes the door whenever she cleans a hotel patron's room, although she doesn't steal. She's just interested in the lives of others and likes to read their papers, peek in their drawers and suitcases, and so forth. When Louisa reads some papers in Nikola Tesla's room, she gets caught. But, Nikola and Louisa have something in common: Louisa keeps pigeons.

I enjoyed The Invention of Everything Else until about the last third and then it became increasingly baffling. What I think the author was trying to say was that Tesla was used and misunderstood which led to the financial ruin, isolation and emotional mess of his later years. At any rate, in the book there's a friend of Louisa's father who claims to have built a time machine, a young man who seems to show up wherever Louisa goes (whom her father's friend claims she'll one day marry) and . . . well, I'm just not sure what was going on toward the end.

What worked best for me was the portrayal of Tesla as an aging man, reflecting on his life, knowing he's nearing the end of his years, sad and hurt about the many betrayals that have led him into deep debt and alone with piercing regret, his only friends the pigeons he cares for on his windowsill. Tesla's story was obviously fictionalized but the author did a fine job of bringing his story to life.

What didn't work was the wholly fictional story overlying that history. Louisa was interesting and I liked the relationship between Louisa and her father, but I didn't feel like the friendship between Tesla and Louisa was developed enough. The story of their friendship, in fact, degenerated and became a little too hallucinatory for my taste in the end. Throughout the book, however, Tesla's story remained fascinating to me, if at times inscrutable and there was never any point during which I considered abandoning the book.

3.5/5 - Lovely writing, interesting and apparently very accurate historical framework -- I did feel like I learned a great deal about Tesla. A marvelous work of writing that lost something as it neared the conclusion.

I think I'm just in the midst of a blogging slump because I usually don't have as much trouble writing about books as I have in recent weeks. Generally, you can't shut me up. Also . . . a new oddity . . . like every other book I've recently read, I seem to have come up with plenty to say about The Invention of Everything Else the moment I turned off the computer. How distressing. Let's blame the time change, shall we? I've finished two more books and hope to review those, along with a nice little pile of children's books, soon.

I recieved my copy of The Invention of Everything Else from the publisher, via Shelf Awareness. My thanks to Mariner Books. I will pass my copy on to a happy new home.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Mr. Midshipman Hornblower by C. S. Forester

Mr. Midshipman Hornblower
by C. S. Forester
Copyright 1948
Reissued by Back Bay Books, 1998
310 pages

A little background as to why I read this book. My husband and I got a boxed set of "adventure movies" by the A & E network for Christmas and the first 4 of the Hornblower movies (there are 8) were included in that set. We watched them on laundry-folding nights. Seriously, that's what we do. We make huge mountains of clean laundry and then spend an evening folding and watching a movie. I had only seen bits and pieces of the series, in the past, when my husband watched them. He's seen them all and read most of the books.

Well . . . Ioan Gruffudd, Robert Lindsay, Jamie Bamber, Paul McGann . . . seriously, the movies would have had my approval if you'd just held up a photo of those guys in costume. Hornblower has an awesome cast and the movies are beautiful, adventurous, impressively acted. I just loved them. This is funny because my husband always thought they'd be far too violent for my taste.

After we'd watched the first 4 movies, I went in search of the next 4. Meanwhile, having discovered that I don't just find the stories tolerable but I'm, in fact, wild about the adventure, I went in search of Mr. Midshipman Hornblower. We had a copy, but who knew where it had disappeared to? My husband, as I've mentioned before, is Mr. Chaos and the Hornblower books are his.

He gradually located most of the books -- 8 out of 9 of them -- but never did manage to find the first in the series (by order of Hornblower's experience, not the order in which they were written, as they weren't written from Midshipman to Admiral in timeline order).

I got online and found a copy was available at PaperbackSwap. Then, I had to wait for its owner to dig out from under the snow because he was stuck at home (in Washington, D.C.) during the big blizzard and the book was at his office.

Finally, I got my hands on the book and read it. And, it is every bit as wonderful as I'd imagined and then some. I found myself wanting to quote entire pages. C. S. Forester was a witty man and some of the lines in the movies are taken straight from the pages of the books.

A handsome young man in a plum-coloured coat with a lace stock greeted Hornblower when he stepped on the deck.
"Welcome, sir, to the Pique," he said in French. "I am Captain Neuville, of this privateer. And you are--?"
"Midshipman Hornblower, of His Britannic Majesty's ship Indefatigable," growled Hornblower.
"You seem to be in an evil humour," said Neuville. "Please do not be so distressed at the fortunes of war. You will be accomodated in this ship, until we return to port, with every comfort possible at sea. I beg of you to consider yourself quite at home. For instance, those pistols in your belt must discommode you more than a little. Permit me to relieve you of their weight."
He took the pistols neatly from Hornblower's belt as he spoke, looked Hornblower keenly over, and then went on.
"That dirk that you wear at your side, sir. Would you oblige me by the loan of it? I assure you that I will return it to you when we part company. But while you are on board here I fear that your impetuous youth might lead you into some rash act while you are wearing a weapon which a credulous mind might believe to be lethal. A thousand thanks. And now might I show you the berth that is being prepared for you?"

Don't you love the language? Even more impressive and lovely are the manners.

"Mr. Hornblower!" said Eccles. "My respects to the captain, and we're ready to get under weigh."
Hornblower dived below with his message.
"My compliments to Mr. Eccles," said Pellew, looking up from his desk, " and I'll be on deck immediately."

Of course, there are plenty of light moments in between adventures at sea and on land.

Midshipman Hornblower was walking the lee side of the quarterdeck, as became his lowly station as the junior officer of the watch, in the afternoon, when Midshipman Kennedy approached him. Kennedy took off his hat with a flourish, left foot advanced, hat down by the right knee. Hornblower entered into the spirit of the game, laid his hat against his stomach, and bent himself in the middle three times in quick parody ceremonial solemnity almost without trying.
"Most grave and reverend signor," said Kennedy. "I bear the compliments of Captain Sir Ed'ard Pellew, who humbly solicits Your Gravity's attendance at dinner at eight bells in the afternoon watch."
"My respects to Sir Edward," replied Hornblower, bowing to his knees at the mention of the name," and I shall condescend to make a brief appearance."
"I am sure the captain will be both relieved and delighted," said Kennedy. "I will convey him my felicitations along with your most flattering acceptance."
Both hats flourished with even greater elaboration than before, but at that moment both young men noticed Mr. Bolton, the officer of the watch, looking at them from the windward side, and they hurriedly put their hats on and assumed attitudes more consonant with the dignity of officers holding their warrants from King George.

5/5 - Sparkling dialogue, exciting seafaring adventure, rock-solid descriptions of Hornblower's emotional state and straightforward, exceptional writing flair.

Yeah. That means I loved it and I plan to read the entire series. Highly, highly recommended to any and all. There are plenty of nautical terms but I had no problem with them, although the occasional scene only partially made sense. That's because I didn't bother to retrieve our nautical lexicon (which I gave to my husband when he was reading Patrick O'Brien's Aubrey/Maturin series). They didn't last long and don't dominate the book; the stories are very readable. I can't say enough positive things about this series, even after having read only the first in a series of nearly a dozen.

I was very, very distracted whilst writing this post because I kept looking up photos of the cast. If you haven't seen the movies, I also highly recommend them. There's plenty of graphic violence (lots of screaming and moaning during battles and a good bit of blood) so you might want to watch them after the kids are in bed, but they make laundry-folding a bold adventure.

So Long, Insecurity by Beth Moore

So Long, Insecurity: you've been a bad friend to us
By Beth Moore
Copyright 2010
Tyndale House Publishers - Christian Nonfiction
352 pages, incl. brief notes

Insecurity is more than a complex emotion. It is a lie about our God-sanctioned condition. While something may cause us to feel sad, confused, angry, or threatened, we have the power to choose whether or not it gets to assault our security. When we decide to be strong willed about what God strongly wills, that, beloved, is the epitome of empowerment. The next time someone says or does something to you that has the capacity to dent your security, instantly think of one of these thoughts toward that person:

--You can hurt my feelings, but you cannot have my security. I won't let you. It's mine to keep. You cannot have it.
--You can criticize me and even be right about what I did wrong, but you do not get to damage my security. It's mine to keep. You cannot have it.
--You might have embarrassed me, but I refuse to let it fall on me so heavily that it smothers my security. It's mine to keep. You cannot have it.
--You may be so intimidating and threatening that I feel I have to hand a lot of things to you, but I refuse to hand over my security. Who you are doesn't get to dwarf who I am. My security is mine to keep. You cannot have it.

I read So Long, Insecurity several weeks ago and simply have been busy and distracted, hence the delayed post. You can read a preview chapter from So Long, Insecurity, here. I thought the book got off to a slow start, but once the author got past a good deal of introductory material about how she came to write the book and why she believes it's such an important topic, I was rather stunned at how meaningful the material was.

One of my favorite parts, on pp. 37-38, in which she lists some "false positives". She starts with a fill-in-the-blank:

"You know, _________, people who don't know you really well would never be able to imagine that you struggle with insecurity. After all . . . "

This sentence leads into a full page of examples, such as:

. . . you're married to the most fabulous man in the world."

Prominent false positive: A great man would make me secure.

. . . you're gorgeous! I'd give anything to see that in the mirror!"

Prominent false positive: Beauty would make me secure.

I think we all can say that at some point someone has told us they assumed our lives are perfect because of one false impression or another, so that resonated with me. As I was reading those "false positives", I thought of myself but I also often thought of friends who fit into each category. I know, for example, a drop-dead gorgeous woman who is stunningly insecure. The fact that she's beautiful really has nothing at all to do with her self-image.

Moore goes on to describe how women become insecure in the first place and she describes a number of scenarios that had never occurred to me. I felt like I learned a surprising amount about other females -- for example, why some women go out barely dressed in provocative clothing and high heels to places where they're asking for trouble. I never understood that mentality or the fact that it stems from insecurity, sometimes from acting out after sexual abuse. Nor had I heard the male viewpoint about women and their self-confidence or insecurity, which she asked for and repeated verbatim from their emails. It was utterly fascinating.

I thought this book was amazing. It's made me think twice about my inner dialogue, in recent weeks, and I'm planning to save it for at least one reread and pass it around to some friends.

4/5 - Solid, Christian self-help, directed specifically at women (but men could certainly learn from it, as well). Christianity is not a prerequisite for reading this book, but there is plenty of Bible scripture and Beth Moore is a Christian minister/speaker/writer, so those who are not Christian should go into it expecting the author's suggestions to be based on the Bible and Christian beliefs.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Bookfool in Green (but, actually, it's moss green)

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien (#1 for Vietnam Reading Challenge)

The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
Copyright 1990
Broadway Books - Literature/War
246 pages

No more fantasies, he told himself.

Henceforth, when he thought about Martha, it would be only to think that she belonged elsewhere. He would shut down the daydreams. This was not Mount Sebastian, it was another world, where there were no pretty poems or midterm exams, a place where men died because of carelessness and gross stupidity. Kiowa was right. Boom-down and you were dead, never partly dead.

Briefly, in the rain, Lieutenant Cross saw Martha's gray eyes gazing back at him.

He understood.

It was very sad, he thought. The things men carried inside. The things men did or felt they had to do.

There were birds and butterflies, the soft rustlings of rural-anywhere. Below, in the earth, the relics of our presence were no doubt still there, the canteens and bandoliers and mess kits. This little field, I thought, had swallowed so much. My best friend. My pride. My belief in myself as a man of some small dignity and courage. Still it was hard to find any real emotion. It simply wasn't there. After that long night in the rain, I'd seemed to grow cold inside, all the illusions gone, all the old ambitions and hopes for myself sucked away into the mud. Over the years, that coldness had never entirely disappeared. There were times in my life when I couldn't feel much, not sadness or pity or passion, and somehow I blamed this place for what I had become, and I blamed it for taking away the person I had once been. For twenty years this field had embodied all the waste that was Vietnam, all the vulgarity and horror.

Now it just was what it was. Flat and dreary and unremarkable.

The Things They Carried is, quite simply, one of the most moving, beautifully written books I've ever read. The book opens up with a literal description of the things Vietnam soldiers carried, from weapons and ammunition to Bibles, photographs, tranquilizers and memories of home.

As the book progresses, the reader gets to know the characters. Although The Things They Carried was originally written as a series of short stories, it's not jumpy or rough. It reads like a novel, in my opinion; the characters are consistent throughout. As in reality, some die and are replaced; and, the book jumps forward and backward in time. But even the dead remain in the minds of their friends and in that way often continue to make appearances.

I've had a little trouble putting my thoughts about this book into words, so I'm going to do a self-interview between I and Myself for the rest of this review.

I: What led you to read this book? And, why does the world seem to be conspiring against the writing of this review?

Myself: Primarily the Vietnam War Reading Challenge and I don't know, galdernit, but there's something weird going on. Every time I sit down to type, the phone or doorbell rings, someone sits down to talk to me or decides to read jokes aloud for an hour (Kiddo) . . . shoot, even the cat distracted me by falling out of her chair.

Anyway, I've had a copy of The Things They Carried on my shelf for many years but it probably would have sat around, eventually growing green fuzz, if not for this wonderful challenge. Many thanks to Anna and Serena for the nudge.

I: Ah, yes. Nudges are good. Poor kitty. She's got to quit hanging her head off the side of the chair like that. What did you like about The Things They Carried?

Myself: Everything. It's a literary masterpiece -- the writing is just breathtaking. The characters are three-dimensional, vivid and real enough that I still occasionally think about them, although it's been several weeks since I finished the book. The author did a fabulous job of hitting the emotional aspect of going to war, fighting a battle that he didn't understand and which was so unpopular that men often took their own lives when they returned home. There were many tears but at times I smiled. It's a deeply moving account of not only what it was like to serve in Vietnam, but also how he felt when he was drafted and considered fleeing to Canada, why he chose not to run, how he eventually became hardened while others fell apart.

I: Was there anything you disliked about the book?

Myself: I have absolutely nothing negative to say about this book. It's a hard read because of the subject matter but I don't think that's a bad thing. In fact, I think it's an important book. Several people I've talked to or who have left comments, here, have mentioned that The Things They Carried is "not for the faint of heart" and that is certainly true. It can be graphic and horrifying, but it's graphic only in a way that it must be, if that makes sense. It's a truthful book.

I: What did you think of the characters?

Myself: They were almost visible entities; it would not be surprising if they walked out of the pages of the book -- that's the caliber of writing we're talking about. Kiowa was my favorite character, a Native American who carried a Bible, had a huge heart and a great sense of humor . . . and came from my home state. I was not surprised to find that he (although fictionalized, and I can't say to what extent) was the author's best friend. He was portrayed with deep affection while others were sometimes described as callous or childish or immoral. I'm not sure if the author meant to say so, but I think in his way he made it clear that an individual's true character shows in a situation as stressful as war.

I: Rating?

Myself: Perfect. Off-the-scale, mind-boggling genious perfection.

I: That's pretty high praise.

Myself: The highest. Just tell everyone to read The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien.

I: Okay. Everyone!! Read the book! I guess we can go to bed, now?

Myself: Yes. The end. Finis. More reviews forthcoming in the next few days, I hope. We had a lovely weekend with son and future daughter-in-law but that blankety-blank "spring forward" business has made us a wreck. Nightie-night, all!

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Country House Courtship by Linore Rose Burkard (review)

The Country House Courtship by Linore Rose Burkard
Copyright 2010
Harvest House - Regency Inspirational Romance
287 pages
Includes discussion questions and Regency glossary

Five years after the wedding of Ariana Forsythe to Phillip Mornay, aka "the Paragon", Ariana and her husband are still madly in love and the proud parents of two small children. At their manor house in the country, they have a number of guests; among them, Ariana's sister Beatrice and their mother, Mrs. Forsythe.

Beatrice is sixteen and eager to come out in society, so she spends a good deal of her time trying to persuade Ariana to move her household to London in time to chaperone Beatrice during the Season. Beatrice is convinced that with her sister's connections (spelled "connexions" in the book), Beatrice is practically guaranteed a wealthy match -- if not one to a man so well off as the Paragon, at least to a man of means who will keep her in style.

Mr. Peter O'Brien arrives to request a position at Glendover vicarage, although he assumes the errand is a waste of time. The vicarage is on the Mornay estate; Phillip and Peter have a history and it's not a good one.

The Prince Regent, meanwhile, wants the Paragon on his side, politically, and has offered him a Viscountcy. Phillip has not responded and the Prince impatiently sends a man named Tristan Barton. Barton has rented the nearby Manor House, where he hopes to hide away his pregnant sister, whose beloved, a Lord, has spurned her at the insistence of his parents.

There may be some minor spoilers in this section. I'm not sure if there's anything that will ruin the reading, but just in case . . . . consider this fair warning, if you please.

With two eligible men hanging about the country manor house, Beatrice finds herself in an interesting position. Mr. Barton appears to be a man of means and expresses an interest in her almost immediately. Little does she know, the man has an ulterior motive; he believes that to be connected in any way to Mornay can only be helpful to his reputation and he needs plenty of help. Barton has already gambled away his family's estate and is the reason for his sister Anne's ruin.

Mr. O'Brien is a kind, gentle man of the church but all Beatrice can see in him is a future with strict limitations, even when he is offered a position as vicar of nearby Warwickdon. The vicarage is charming and near her sister's large estate, but it's small by comparison. Surely, Beatrice can do better.

I think it's safe, now. You can come down out of the tree. Careful, now. Don't scrape your knees.

When a deadly fever makes its way to the estate and Ariana must be confined alone to prevent the spread of illness to her children and guests, the characters of the two men are revealed. But, Beatrice is stubborn. Will she choose the right man? Or, will Beatrice end up the wife of a gambler who intends to marry only to secure a better position?

The Country House Courtship is, at least on the romance end, predictable because it's a romance and obviously, nobody's going to be happy with a drearily-ever-after ending. Romance must end with true love. However, to get to the end point, there are plenty of interesting developments in this story. It didn't seem to me that there was a whole lot of plot; but, on reflection, I can see that a lot happened and I was immensely entertained. The Country House Courtship was the perfect book for me, this week. It's light, romantic, sometimes funny, adventurous and clean.

The word "inspirational" in the description means there is some emphasis on Christianity and God, but I don't think the author waxed religious often enough to offend anyone who just wants to read a sweet romance. I liked the characters I was supposed to like, felt a pang for poor Anne, despised Mr. Barton. It was fun reading and I highly recommend it to romance and historical fiction fans. A small glossary at the back of the book helps to clarify some historical information about the Regency time period. The book takes place in 1818 in Middlesex, England.

4/5 - Entertaining, romantic, well researched and pleasing. There were occasional moments when a modern word or phrase sneaked through, but I don't think Linore Rose Burkard is shooting for a place as the new Georgette Heyer. There's enough authenticity to convince without so much as to become a burden. The predictability was offset by plenty of interesting developments that were unexpected.

The Country House Courtship is the third in a series. It is not necessary to read the books in order as each story stands alone fine, but I think doing so adds to the enjoyment as the series does have a continuing set of characters.

In other news:

Still madly cleaning, tidying, shifting in anticipation of this weekend's visitors. It's great. We're finding square footage that has been missing for years. Also, we are awaiting the arrival of a kitty tree and Fiona is rather desperately climbing anywhere and everywhere, in the meantime. She is one heck of a fine jumper. And, boy, can she make a mess.

I'm reading slowly because of chores and our weekend will be eaten up by family fun, so I anticipate returning to blogging and blog-hopping (which I finally managed to at least start, yesterday) by Sunday or Monday.

Happy Weekend!

Bookfool, up to elbows in dust and very happy about it

The Country House Courtship by Linore Rose Burkard (sneak peek)

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

The Country House Courtship

Harvest House Publishers (January 1, 2010)

***Special thanks to Linore Rose Burkard and Dave Bartlett (Harvest House Publishers) for sending me a review copy.***


Linore Rose Burkard is the creator of "Inspirational Romance for the Jane Austen Soul." Her characters take you back in time to experience life and love during the era of Regency England (circa 1811 - 1820). Fans of classic romances such as Pride & Prejudice, Emma, and Sense & Sensibility, will enjoy Linore's feisty heroines, heart-throb heroes and happy endings.

Enjoy the free resources on Linore's website:

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 300 pages
Publisher: Harvest House Publishers (January 1, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0736927999
ISBN-13: 978-0736927994


London, England, 1818

Mr. Peter O’Brien felt surely he had a devil plaguing him, and the devil’s name was Mr. Phillip Mornay. The paper in his hand should have made him happy. Indeed, it ought to have elicited nothing but joy after two years of holding a curacy that didn’t pay enough to feed a church-mouse. Yet, instead he was staring ahead after reading a letter of recommendation for him as though he’d seen a ghost.

His previous naval commander, Colonel Sotheby, had recommended Mr. O’Brien to a wealthy landowner whose vicarage had gone vacant. It was the sort of letter that a poor Curate should rejoice over. The man who obtained the vicarage in the parish of Glendover, the Colonel said, in addition to having a decent curate’s salary, would have claim to a large glebe, a generous and well built house, and, in short, would see himself by way of having enough to begin a family. (If he found a wife to marry, first, of course. O’Brien could just hear the Colonel’s good-natured laugh ring out at that remark.)

But still his own mouth was set in an unpromising hard line: The landowner’s name was Mr. Phillip Mornay, none other than the Paragon, himself. And Mornay, Mr. O’Brien knew, would never grant him the living. To do so would go against everything he knew to be true of him. After all, no man who had once overstepped his bounds with Mr. Mornay’s betrothed, as Mr. O’Brien unfortunately had, would now be presented to the vicarage on the man’s lands. Of all the rotten, devilish luck! To have such a letter of commendation was like gold in the fiercely competitive world of the church, where there were more poor curates looking for a rise in their situations than there were church parishes who could supply them.

Therefore, instead of the boon from heaven this letter ought to have been, Mr. O’Brien was struck with a gloomy assurance that Mornay would sooner accept a popinjay in cleric’s clothing than himself. Even worse, his mother agreed with his appraisal.

He had taken the letter into the morning room of their house on Blandford Street, joining his mother while she sat at her breakfast.

“You do not wish to renew old grievances,” she said. “Mr. Mornay is not, to my knowledge, a forgiving man; shall you be put to the expense and trouble of travelling all the way to Middlesex, only to be turned down in the end? What can you possibly gain in it?”

Mr. O’Brien nodded; he saw her point. But he said, “I may have to do just that. The Colonel will never recommend me for another parish if he learns that I failed to apply myself to this opportunity.”

“Write to him,” replied his mama. “See if you can politely decline this honour, with the understanding that any other offer should be most welcome and appreciated!”

He doubted that any letter , no matter how ‘politely’ written, would be able to manage his desire to avoid this meeting with Mornay, as well as secure the hope of a future recommendation. But he thought about it, put quill to paper and sent the Colonel a reply. He asked (in the humblest terms he could manage) if the man might commend him for a living to be presented by some other landowner, indeed, any other landowner, any other gentleman in England than Phillip Mornay.

He could not explain the full extent of his past doings with Mr. Mornay without making himself sound like an utter fool; how he had hoped to marry the present Mrs. Mornay himself, some years ago. How presumptuous his hopes seemed to him now! Miss Ariana Forsythe was magnificent as the wife of the Paragon. He’d seen them in town after the marriage, but without ever presenting himself before her. It appalled even him that he had once thought himself worthy or equal to that beautiful lady.

When the Colonel’s reply came, there was little surprise in it. He assured Mr. O’Brien that his apprehensions were ill-placed; that Mr. Mornay’s past reputation of being a harsh, irascible man was no longer to the purpose. Colonel Sotheby himself held Mornay in the greatest respect, and insisted that the Paragon had as good a heart as any Christian. In short, (and he made this terribly clear) Mr. O’Brien had best get himself off to Middlesex or he would put the Colonel in a deuced uncomfortable spot. He had already written to Aspindon House, which meant that Mr. O’Brien was expected. If he failed to appear for an interview, he could not expect that another recommendation of such merit and generosity would ever come his way again.

Mr. O’Brien realized it was inevitable: he would have to go to Middlesex and present himself to Mornay. He knew it was a vain cause, that nothing but humiliation could come of it, but he bowed to what he must consider the will of God. He knelt in prayer, begging to be excused from this doomed interview, but his heart and conscience told him he must to it. If he was to face humiliation, had he not brought it upon himself? Had he not earned Mornay’s disregard, with his former obsession with Miss Forsythe, who was now Mrs. Mornay?

He no longer had feelings for the lady, but it was sure to be blesséd awkward to face her! No less so than her husband. Nevertheless, when he rose from his knees, Peter O’Brien felt equal to doing what both duty and honour required. He only hoped that Mr. Mornay had not already written his own letter of objections to the Colonel; telling him why he would never present the living to Peter O’Brien. The Colonel was his best hope for a way out of St. Pancras . It was a gritty, desperate parish with poverty, crime, and hopelessness aplenty—not the sort of place he hoped to spend his life in, for he wanted a family. A wife.

Prepared to face the interview come what may, Mr. O’Brien determined not to allow Mornay to make quick work of him. He was no longer the youthful swain, besotted over a Miss Forsythe. A stint in the Army, if nothing else, had hardened him, brought him face to face with deep issues of life, and left him, or so he thought, a better man.


Aspindon House, Glendover, Middlesex

Ariana Mornay looked for the hundredth time at her younger sister Beatrice, sitting across from her in the elegantly cozy morning room of her country estate, Aspindon. Here in the daylight, Beatrice’s transformation from child to warm and attractive young woman was fully evident . When Mrs. Forsythe and Beatrice had arrived the prior evening, Ariana had seen the change in her sister, of course, but the daylight revealed it in a clarity that neither last night’s flambeaux (lit in honour of their arrival) or the interior candlelight and fire of the drawing room had been able to offer.

Beatrice’s previously brown hair was now a lovely luminous russet. Ringlets peeked out from a morning cap with ruffled lace, hanging over her brow and hovering about the sides of her face. The reddish brown of her locks emphasized hazel-green eyes, smallish mischievous lips and a healthy glow in her cheeks. Beatrice noticed her elder sister was studying her, and smiled.

“You still look at me as if you know me not,” she said, not hiding how much it pleased her to find herself an object of admiration.

“I cannot comprehend how greatly you are altered, in just one year!”

“I regret that we did not come for so long,” put in Mrs. Forsythe, the girls’ mother. She was still feasting her eyes upon Ariana and the children (though the nurse, Mrs. Perler, had taken four year old Nigel, the Mornay’s firstborn, from the room, after he had spilled a glass of milk all over himself minutes ago). “We wished to come sooner, as you know, but Lucy took ill, and I dared not carry the sickness here to you with your new little baby.” At this, she stopped and cooed to the infant, who was upon her lap at the moment.”No, no, no,” she said, in the exaggerated tone that people use when addressing babies, “we can’t have little Miranda getting sick, now can we?”

Ariana smiled. “It matters not, mama. You are here, now. I only wish Papa and Lucy could have joined you.” Lucy, the youngest Forsythe sister, and Papa, had been obliged to stay home until the spring planting had been seen to. Mr. Forsythe did not wish to be wholly bereft of his family, so Lucy, who was a great comfort to him, had been enjoined to remain in Chesterton for his sake.

“I could not bear to wait upon your father a day longer,” she answered with a little smile. “They will come by post chaise after papa has done his service through Easter. And then we will all be together--except for the Norledges. Perhaps when Papa comes, he may bring your older sister and her husband?”

“I would want Aunt Pellham too, in that case,” murmured the blond-haired young woman.

“Oh, my! With your Aunt and Uncle Pellham, and the Norledges, even this large house would be filled with guests, I daresay!” said her mother.

Beatrice was still happily ingesting the thought that Ariana had evidently noticed her womanhood. At seventeen, hers was not a striking sort of beauty—one did not stop in instant admiration upon spying Beatrice in a room, for instance, as had often been the case for Ariana; but the younger girl had no lack of wits, a lively eye and countenance, and, not to be understated, an easy friendliness. Among a group of reserved and proper English young ladies, Beatrice would be the beacon of refuge for the timid; she was welcoming where others were aloof; inquisitive and protective where others looked away.

Nor was she the sort of young woman to glide across a floor, dignified and elegant. Instead, Beatrice was ever having to keep her energy in check; When rising from a chair (her mama had made her practice doing so countless times) she could appear as elegant as the next young woman. She ate nicely, even daintily. But left unchecked, her natural enthusiasm might propel her through a room with alarming speed. Her shawls were ever hanging from her arms, never staying in place over her shoulder; and her mother forbade her from wearing hair jewellery, as it tended to lose its place upon her head. Bandeaux were her lot; besides bonnets, of course.

“It is fortunate that I am only seventeen,” she had said to her mama only last week, while the woman was draping a wide bandeau artfully around Beatrice’s head. “Or I believe you would exile every manner of female head attire from this house, saving turbans! Although my hair holds a curl twice as long as Lucy’s!”

Mrs. Forsythe had paused from her ministrations and met her daughter’s eyes in the looking glass before them. “I daresay you are suited for turbans; perhaps we should shop for some. I believe they are very popular just now.” Since the last thing in the world Beatrice wished to wear upon her head was a turban—no matter how many ladies in the pages of La Belle Assemblée wore them—she simply gave voice to an exasperated huff, evoking a knowing smile upon her mama’s face.

“I should adore a full house of guests,” she said, now. “Please do invite the Norledges’ Ariana! Only think of the diversions we could have; play-acting with enough people to fill all the roles, for a change! Or charades; or even a dance!”

Ariana looked at her sister fondly. “Which dances do you like best?”

“The waltz!” she quickly responded, with a smile to show that she knew it was mischievous to prefer the waltz—the single dance which entailed more contact with the opposite sex than any other ballroom fare. Mrs. Forsythe clucked her tongue, but Beatrice blithely ignored this, taking a peek at her brother-in-law to gauge his reaction, instead. The host of the gathering was reading his morning paper, however, and not listening to the small talk between his wife and her relations.

And relations were virtually all around him. In addition to Beatrice and Mrs. Forsythe, there was his aunt, Mrs. Royleforst, staying with them at the present, and her companion, skinny, nervous Miss Bluford. These two ladies had not appeared yet for breakfast, which was probably on account of Mrs. Royleforst. She found mornings difficult and either slept in, or took a tray in her room.

“What do you think, sir?” asked Mrs. Forsythe, of her host. “Shall my daughter invite the Norledges to join Mr. Forsythe and Lucy when they set out for your house? Or is your home already filled enough for your liking?”

Mr. Mornay looked over his paper enough to acknowledge that he had heard her question. “As it is your and my wife’s family, I think the two of you must decide upon it. As long as there are bed-chambers enough,” he added, looking at Ariana, “you may fill them with guests as you please.”

“Thank you, darling,” she said, making Beatrice stifle a titter. Her sister and her husband were still inordinately romantic, to her mind. Good thing no one else was present save her mother! She would have been embarrassed for them in company.

“Shall I take the baby, mama?” said Ariana, for Miranda was beginning to fuss.

“I suppose she wants to be fed,” agreed her mother. Ariana nodded to a maid who was seated against the wall, who went and received the child from her grandmother and brought her gingerly to her mama. Ariana’s eyes sparkled with happiness as she took her little girl. She murmured to the baby, by turns picking her up and kissing her face, and then just holding her in her arms and gazing at her in loving adoration. “I shan’t feed her yet,” she said. “She isn’t insisting upon it.”

Beatrice’s thoughts were still upon the diversions that would be possible with a large group staying at the house. “If they all come, can you and Mr. Mornay hold a ball, Ariana? Or, will you take me to London this year for the Season? Then I may go to as many balls as I like, and you will not have the expense of holding them!”

“If she takes you to London for the Season,” put in her mama, “she will have a great deal more expense than just that of a ball! Besides which, you are too young for such.”

Beatrice looked at her mama, her enthusiasm temporarily dampened. “But my sister sees I am older, now,” she said, looking at Ariana with a silent plea in her gaze. “And I am not too young for a Season, according to the magazines. Many girls my age do have their coming out, mama!”

“Many gels,” she returned, instantly, “have little sense, and their parents, no better; your papa and I did not allow either of your sisters to go about in society at your age. You have been already too pampered, if you ask me. London society is out of the question!”

Beatrice was now thoroughly dampened in her spirits, but she looked about and settled her eyes upon her brother-in-law. “I daresay Mr. Mornay has seen many a girl of my age--and younger—make their debut during the Season. And to no ill effect! Why, I am sure some of them have made the most brilliant matches! Many a man of good standing prefers a younger lady for his wife. You had ought to let me go while I am young enough to enjoy this advantage.”

Mr. Mornay was frowning behind his newspaper. He knew that his young relation wanted his support in the matter, but Mr. Mornay was assuredly not in the habit of coming to the aid of young women, particularly regarding a London Season. So he said nothing, though an ensuing silence in the room told him the ladies waited for his opinion.

Ariana, who knew better, offered, “Let us discuss it another time. There are months, yet, before the Season. And with Miranda so young, I cannot decide at this point, in any case.”

Beatrice, who had no idea she was treading on dangerous ground, said, “Only let Mr. Mornay tell us his thoughts! I know my mother will listen if you tell her, sir,” she said, directly to him.

He put his paper down reluctantly, and then looked at Beatrice. “I think Ariana was young to face society at nineteen. At your age, you need to be sheltered, not put forth among the wolves.”

Her face fell so entirely, that he almost chuckled at it. “Why are you so eager for a Season?”

She smiled a little. This was better; he was inviting her to explain so that her mother could see the good advantage in it. “I have long lived with the memory of my sister’s tales of her experiences in London;” she said. “She met you there! Her coming out is what brought her to marriage, to Aspindon, to a better life! I have had my fill of Chesterton, I assure you! The prospects for marrying well in that region are as dismal as ever, if not worse;” she said. (Ariana closed her eyes at this; she could hardly bear to hear her sister telling all the reasons Phillip would most despise.) “Why does it seem that all the eligible young men in the county are either in a regiment somewhere, or at sea, or in need of a fortune? I must go to London or Bath, where there are more men one can meet!”

She paused, looking at him earnestly. “I have no fortune, sir, as you are well aware. And with your connexions, I am certain to make very advantageous acquaintances! What could be more certain? I shall end up, no doubt, just as my sister has, with a man like you, sir!” Beatrice evidently thought she was giving him a great compliment. She waited, expecting a gracious answer.

“Oh, Beatrice!” moaned Mrs. Forsythe. “You foolish gel!”

Mr. Mornay stood up, after folding his paper to a neat size. He said, “It takes more than wearing a corset to say a young lady is grown up, would you not agree?” He directed his remark to the whole room, and then settled his eyes upon Beatrice for one second too long, before giving a small bow to the women in general, and turning to leave the room. Beatrice considered his words for a moment. He had rested his eyes on her long enough so that she knew exactly what he meant.

Mr. Frederick met his master at the door, holding out a salver with a letter for Mr. Mornay, who took it but then looked curiously at the butler.

“It arrived in that condition, sir! I daresay it was lost in the mail or some such thing.”

“Hmm, very good, Freddie.” He held up a battered and ink-soiled missive for his wife to see, while eyeing it dubiously.

She looked amused. “Who is it from?”

He unfolded the paper, as the sealing wax was almost entirely worn off already, and scanned the signature at the bottom. “Colonel Sotheby. I’ll read it in my office.” She nodded, and Mr. Mornay left the room.

Beatrice was still smarting from his earlier remark, and said, as soon as he’d gone, “How ‘grown up’ can I be, when I am forced to exist in a small country village, with no prospects, and genteel company only upon a Sunday?”

“You overstate your case! That is not true,” answered her mama, disapprovingly.

“And as for wearing a corset,” Beatrice continued, after taking a sip of tea, “I do not pretend that wearing one is what makes me of age for a Season. I have formed my principles upon sound reason. I have sat beneath the tutelage of my father and of Mr. Timmons, and of his curate, and I should say my principles are well-founded.”

“We are glad to hear it,” Ariana said, with great forbearance, “but really, you should not be setting your mind upon seeking a man like my husband; you should be intent upon finding the man that God has chosen for you.”

“And so I am!” she protested, her eyes wide and laughing. “But look at the advantage He gives me in having you for my sister! Am I to ignore that? When it could be the very means of bringing me and my future husband together?”

Ariana played absently with little Miranda’s blanket, tucking it in about her chin more snugly. She met her sister’s eyes. “London is not the only place a young woman may meet a husband. And if you want my husband’s approval of your plan, the last thing in the world you should tell him is that you want to meet a man like him! Or that you wish to marry above you in any way!”
“But is it above me? To marry well? When my sister is Mrs. Mornay of Aspindon House?”

“It is above you,” said her mother, “because you are Miss Forsythe of Chesterton.”

“I am a gentleman’s daughter,” she replied.

“With no dowry to speak of,” said her mama.

Beatrice’s cheeks began to burn. “With a rich and famous brother-in-law!” she said, petulantly.

“That does not signify!” said her mother.

“It does, to me!”

“It should not!” Mrs. Forsythe was quickly growing ashamed of her daughter, and she was relieved that Mr. Mornay had left the room, and was not hearing Beatrice right now. Ariana’s eyebrows were raised and she was doing her best to act as though she had no part in the dialogue.

“But it does, mama!”

“Beatrice! You have already said far too much on this topic, which proves to me your great ignorance of the world.” She held up her hand for silence as Beatrice was about to protest; “Not another word! I shan’t have it, not another word.” Mrs. Forsythe turned her attention to her elder daughter.

“I think I will visit the Nursery to see how Nigel is faring. Do you mind?”

“Of course not! He will enjoy showing you his toys.” She smiled, while her mother rose to leave the room. “I’ll be up myself, shortly, to feed the baby.”

“Very good.” She nodded to her daughter, and then her eye fell upon Beatrice. “I think it would be wise if you said nothing more regarding a Season. In fact, I forbid you to mention it to Mr. Mornay again! Do you understand me?”

“I do, mama.” Beatrice was not happy but she recognized the tone of voice her mother was using. She considered, moreover, that it would be a simple matter to keep from mentioning her hopes to the man, for he evidently would not encourage her in them. But as for herself, she would continue to think of the Season in London. She would continue to hope; and some other day, when Ariana was in a good disposition, she would prevail upon her to sponsor her in London.

Beatrice did not want to seem disrespectful, but she knew that Mr. Mornay was quite in error regarding her. He did not know, for instance, that she was determined to make a good match, and recognized it as her lot in life. Every inch she saw of Aspindon just confirmed her sense that a rich life awaited her. She was born for it. And now all that was necessary was to meet her future husband—the man who could make it all happen. She had long prayed for just such a meeting, and knew that it was bound to occur. All she had to do was be properly outfitted, and in the proper company, for it to do so.

All she had to do was change her sister and brother-in-law’s mind on the matter. How difficult could that be?