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.
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It seems natural to follow the foregoing review of Grace, by Natashia Deon, with a review of Some Form of Grace, by Dee Dee Chumley. The settings and stories differ widely, but, as the titles indicate, similar themes run through both books.
At the outset of Some Form of Grace, Gracene is about to be released from a minimum security prison in Oklahoma City. Her mother, she tells us, used to say that upon first laying eyes on her baby she knew the child’s name must be “some form of grace.”
“[The name] ‘suited’ me like a tutu suits a giraffe or like ballet slippers suit size ten clodhoppers,” Gracene contends.
It has been quite some time since I was at leisure to post a thorough book review. But as I recently shared book recommendations with a couple of friends, it seemed worthwhile post these brief observations for a wider audience.
I recently determined to read more contemporary historical fiction, as I am working in the genre myself. I thank Jane Kirkpatrick, a notable historical novelist from Oregon, for recommending Ruta Sepetys’s books.
Salt to the Sea is a multiple-point-of-view novel culminating in the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff in the Baltic Sea in January 1945, the deadliest maritime disaster in history. The POV characters represent Prussia, Germany, Lithuania, and Poland. Sepetys herself is Lithuanian-American.
Although the subject matter is grim, the characters are well drawn and (aside from those who aren’t supposed to be) sympathetic. I found the “shoe poet,” an elderly cobbler with a penchant for philosophizing, particularly appealing. While tragedy is unavoidable, the author doesn’t leave us crushed by it, and magnanimity and nobility of character are, if not precisely rewarded, celebrated. Sepetys’s other work is high on my to-read list. The Fountains of Silence is her most recent.
This work of 18th-century historical fiction represents a comfortably familiar detective story–complete with a mysterious murder, a proliferation of suspects, and satisfying execution of justice–in an unfamiliar setting. In a culture that is far removed in time and, for most of her readers, place, Hart succeeds in crafting an array of sympathetic characters. The storyteller-sidekick Hamza is a particular gem. And how could you go wrong with a detective who is a librarian? (Of the Chinese imperial court … exiled and wandering in Tibet … the plot thickens.) Upon completing this initial volume, Brian and I proceeded directly to the second and have now embarked on the third.
My daughter and I just read Dear Enemy and re-read Daddy Long-Legs for our mother-daughter book club. I actually enjoyed the sequel more than Daddy Long-Legs, though preference for one book over the other was pretty well equally divided in our group. Both books are epistolary novels, in which the narrative is delivered in the form of letters. As almost half of my historical novel is composed of letters, I can attest to the challenge of preventing such a work from devolving into a dry recitation of facts and events. But the distinctive voices and witty turns of phrase employed by Webster’s letter writers prevent any such literary catastrophe.
Daddy Long-Legs was published in 1912, four years after Anne of Green Gables, and our group observed a number of similarities in theme, style, and content. For starters, both Anne and Judy are orphans. In Dear Enemy, Sallie, a college friend of Judy’s, reluctantly accepts the post of superintendent of the orphanage in which Judy grew up. Much of the book’s appeal for me lay in Sallie’s stories of the children’s antics and the institutional reforms she undertook. Also of interest are the differences and trends in public care of minors over the past hundred years. I don’t know how many of Webster’s views were already espoused by policy makers of her time, but some of the ideas generated by Sallie are now standard practice in the foster care system.
In this season in which I and my home are being inundated with belongings, it is loss that I feel most keenly: the house that was my husband’s childhood home and mother-in-law’s abode for 55+ years; family history in the form of heirlooms, papers, books, and embroidered linens; and the woman who has been slowly slipping away from us for the past three years.
In the shuffle of moving, bringing home, and sending away, countless things have been lost, overlooked, or misplaced. Keys, library books, homework, Benjamins, memories (literally), sick chickens, broken mirrors, spilled milk, burnt rice, “the Alaska Letters,” and the book Leslie Leyland Fields gave me to review just before this whirlwind of relocation descended upon us. Continue reading
A host of concerns other than blogging have required my attention for the last couple of years: two trips to India; a mother-in-law in residence for eight months; hosting author lunches (at my former bookshop) and foster kids (in our home), not to mention the ordinary responsibilities of running a household; incremental progress on my historical novel; and, now, a return to manuscript editing. (For more on that and for contact information, click on the About tab above.)
I hope, eventually, to return to making occasional posts here. In the meantime, Story Warren has posted my latest review, a look at a delightful children’s picture book by Phoebe Gilman, Something from Nothing. I discovered Story Warren last year after our family read The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic, by Jennifer Trafton, a frequent contributor to the site. (We’re indebted to our young friends in Texas who recommended Jennifer’s book to us.) As an often-too-serious parent, I especially love what Jennifer has to say about “holy silliness” in this Story Warren interview: “Let there Be Play”
Story Warren is a fantastic resource and stimulus for creativity in kids and adults alike. To read my review, click here: “Sub-Text in the Sub-Floor”
Our family is currently in Chennai, India, for a ten-week stay. You can read more about our travels on our shared blog, Birds’ Words. This post is the first in a series about Indian authors whose books I have run across here, as well as local libraries and bookstores.
Susan Meller’s books on Central Asian textiles are a rare find. Even if I weren’t researching a novel set in early twentieth-century Central Asia, the wealth of brilliant photos alone would be captivating. Since I am, Meller’s coffee-table sized books provide a treasure trove of information not just on textiles but dress, trade, agriculture, ethnic groups, and the impact of Russian colonization and the Soviet Union on all of these. Continue reading
Francis Spufford’s Unapologetic is a witty, engaging defense of Christian faith from a respected British writer. For this reason alone I wanted to like it. It is directed toward those whose a priori assumption is that there is no place for God in modern society–that intellect, education, and science have rendered belief in Him obsolete and irrational. Another reason I wanted to be able to endorse it. And I did, to all and sundry, throughout my reading of the first two-thirds of the book.
Spufford’s graphic descriptions of the reality of sin and its consequences effectively illustrate our dire need for grace–not just for those who have tragically destroyed their lives, but all of us. It is all well and good, he says, for atheists to urge us to relax, forget about God, and enjoy life. But to do so presupposes that our default state is peace, love, and joy. Anyone who is honest will admit that these are states that we have to work at and that we achieve, if at all, very temporarily and in part.