Till We Have Faces, by C.S. Lewis

I first read Till We Have Faces in high school, thirty-plus years ago. Most of it went over my head, and my overall impression was rather dull and dismal–a conception not entirely off the mark, as much of the internal life of Orual, the main character, amounts to that.

But my faith in Lewis, along with a recent renewed interest in fairy stories and Greek mythology, inspired me to try again. I was not disappointed in my expectations of a deeper, richer experience this time around. Lewis considered Till We Have Faces, his final novel, to be his best work.

Continue reading

Leave a Comment

Filed under book review

Planted, by Leah Kostamo

A friend gave me Planted I’m-not-sure-how-many years ago. She had lived in Vancouver, BC, and participated in a day program at the A Rocha center started by Leah Kostamo and her husband. My friend thought I would appreciate the book’s themes of Christian community and care for the environment.

Continue reading

Leave a Comment

Filed under book review

Everything Sad Is Untrue, by Daniel Nayeri

I can’t remember the last time a book hijacked my day. Middle school, maybe? That was quite some time ago. Once, shortly after we were married, my husband came home from work and we started reading The Last Battle out loud and didn’t stop until we’d finished it, sometime that night. But that was only one evening.

Nayeri’s memoir exerted its magnetism on me through multiple channels–my personal interest in Nayeri’s home country of Iran; the myths and legends he seeds throughout the narrative; and the meandering nature of the storytelling, enticing the reader on, if for no other reason than to find out, “Where is he going with this?”

Continue reading

Leave a Comment

Filed under book review, children's literature, young adult

The White Mirror, by Elsa Hart

The White Mirror follows inadvertent investigator Li Du into the mountains after he has solved the mystery behind the murder of a Jesuit priest in Jade Dragon Mountain (click here for a brief endorsement). En route to Lhasa, the former imperial librarian finds himself snowed in amongst a company of travelers at a mountain valley inn. Click here for the complete introduction to the ensuing mystery and its milieu available on the author’s web site.

Hart’s Li Du novels present a sometimes disconcerting mix of exoticism and familiarity. The author imbues her characters and their surroundings with a sense of authenticity that makes us feel we could be watching at a wormhole into the distant world of 18th-century Qing China. But her use of standard mystery tropes and her skillful deployment of setting imparts the cozy ambience of a large, open hearth, beside which we sip a cup of puerh tea while a storyteller spins tales within and a blizzard rages without.

Continue reading

Leave a Comment

Filed under book review

The Cabinets of Barnaby Mayne, by Elsa Hart

The premise of Barnaby Mayne drew me in when I first read about it, pre-publication–a mystery set amongst the curio cabinets of an 18th-century English collector of natural history. So I was elated to get my hands on a library copy in December–perfect timing for a cozy mystery.

Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Virgil Wander, by Leif Enger

It strikes me that Virgil Wander, by Leif Enger, shares a few elements in common with Once Upon a River, by Diane Setterfield (click here to read our review of the latter). It is set in a small town on a body of water (Lake Superior) and draws its cast of largely sympathetic characters from this cohesive community. Both books begin with a resurrection, of sorts, and end with a wedding. And in both cases the “death” preceding the resurrection takes place off stage, with essential details withheld until the appropriate moment. A subtle aura of mystery crops up here and there in both books. They’re the sort of happenings you accept at first and then say, “Wait–what did he say?”

Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under book review

The Mother Daughter Book Club series, by Heather Vogel Frederick

Since my daughter and I and our book club just finished Heather Vogel Frederick’s Home for the Holidays, it seemed like a good time to review this series that we have been enjoying for more than four years now.

I stumbled across Much Ado about Anne (book two in the series) while looking up L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables books at the library. We quickly fell in love with Frederick’s highly relatable characters and situations and their Concord, Massachusetts, setting. Not unlike the Harry Potter series, the books begin with the main characters in sixth grade, covering one year per book (with a couple of exceptions) and seeing them through high school. Since my daughter was a fourth grader at the time, we took a couple of breaks to let her catch up with age of the book characters.

Continue reading

Leave a Comment

Filed under book review, children's literature, young adult

The Rosemary Tree, by Elizabeth Goudge

Several years ago my daughter and I read Elizabeth Goudge’s The Little White Horse (1946), said to be a childhood favorite of Harry Potter author JK Rowling. Goudge’s mix of whimsy, fantasy, and light-handed moralism intrigued me, as did her blend of Catholic and pagan imagery (not unlike C.S. Lewis’s employment of Greek mythology in The Chronicles of Narnia). Seeking more, I discovered Goudge (1900-1984) had written almost twenty adult novels, in addition to short stories and children’s books.

I decided on The Rosemary Tree (1954), a novel set in post-WWII England. As with Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead, the protagonist is a mild-mannered minister–a kindhearted soul who doesn’t quite have a handle on family life. When a native son, back from the war, wanders onto the scene, John befriends him. Before long we learn this lost soul was once engaged to John’s wife.

Continue reading

Leave a Comment

Filed under book review

Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh

About ten years ago a good friend, a Baylor honors professor, spoke of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited (1945) as “the most nearly perfect novel ever written.” Intriguing. I was compelled, of course, to read it.

My initial response? “Huh.” I was not so much disappointed as mystified. In what, precisely, lay the perfection? And what was it really about? I concluded my education had not properly prepared me to appreciate it.

Many people, I have since learned, respond similarly to a first reading of Brideshead. When another friend told me, three or four years ago, that she was reading it alongside a Close Reads discussion podcast, I decided to give it another go. This time, whether thanks to the Close Reads commentary or my own heightened awareness of where the book was heading, I got it.

Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under book review

Hadestown, by Anais Mitchell

The musical Hadestown first came on my radar early in 2019, a few months into my middle schooler’s Hamilton obsession. I was duly impressed with the latter’s theatrical and historical merits. But after a steady diet of the Schuyler Sisters, I was ready to see what else was on the contemporary Broadway scene.

But it wasn’t until about six months ago that I actually cued up a Hadestown playlist on YouTube. I was immediately swept away by the haunting melodies and intricate harmonies, but most of all, by the sense of yearning. I told my daughter, “You’ve got to listen to this.”

Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Music