Sunday, April 17, 2016

In which I review "The Novel Habits of Happiness"

image credit: amazon

The title first caught my eye: The Novel Habits of Happiness. What are the new habits of happiness? I'd come to the conclusion that, for the most part, what makes us truly happy has stayed virtually the same: social connection, a feeling of being needed or of worth, being able to love and be loved in return. Sure and there are novel ways of achieving those things, I suppose. Also, I smiled, thinking that it could be a pun, and that the person's novel habits of happiness are indeed derived from novels, books. AND the book is by Alexander McCall Smith, whose modern adaptation of Emma I liked and reviewed here.

It was only 257 pages, it was shelved under "mystery," and it promised a series of reads if I enjoyed this book. So, thinking I had nothing to lose, I took the plunge. Yes, you might be saying, but what did you think of it??? This is, after all, a review. Well, touche, yes this is a review. And now that you know the why and wherefore, here are some thoughts I had on The Novel Habits of Happiness.

The book is set in Edinburgh, Scotland, and the heroine is an early 30s philosopher named Isabel Dalhousie. Throughout the novel, Isabel references philosophers and goes off onto philosophical questions and ideas throughout her day. I found this interesting, as sometimes I find myself thinking of the deeper morals and implications of things, and these thoughts could be set off by any number of things. If you're looking for a real mystery novel, this book is not for you. While shelved as mystery and called an amateur sleuth on the inside cover, Isabel is commissioned by a worried single mother to investigate her son's persistent claims that he had a past life. Delving into the paranormal, though she does not really believe it herself, Isabel investigates around the area of Scotland the young boy seemed to be referencing. I will not say what she found, or to what conclusions she came to with the mother.

I'll only say that I enjoyed visiting with Isabel, her husband Jamie, their little boy Charlie, and the numerous quirky characters that make up Isabel's life in Edinburgh. The pages given to Isabel's work on her philosophical magazine, The Review of Applied Ethics, were interesting and I did not mind that most of the story was about her life and characters, as opposed to more plot-driven drama and suspense.

If you're looking for a cozy read, with some interesting characters, and just a hint of mystery, give this book a try. By my reasoning, if you enjoy it, there's more in the series to check out (and I have and so far I am enjoying them as well.)

The only qualm I had, which not everyone will have, is that though Isabel was so generous and open-minded about so many things, and prided herself upon these facts, I found her to be close-minded and dismissive on the subject of religion. When God or Protestantism or anything hinting at a deity appears, Isabel seems to have the view that many have been "Enlightened" past that stage, where ethics and morals are the foundation themselves, and not a belief in a higher power being the cornerstone which leads to such morals and convictions. Now, I'm fine with a character being atheist, really, but it bothers me when they believe themselves to be "above religion" and to almost scoff or pity the folks who hold on to a sense of belief, likening it to the tooth fairy (I can't remember which of the Isabel novels I saw that idea in, but it was there!) On all other points though I found Isabel to be kind and intelligent, dealing in mysteries only to help others caught in them.

So while this isn't a fully comprehensive review, it has bobs of this and that and gives the feel and idea of the book and series, I hope. Those are my thoughts, and I'd love to hear yours. Have you read any Isabel Dalhousie novels? Does anyone else find philosophy and morals as interesting as I do? (I'm sure some do!) What mysteries do you love to read?

Monday, January 18, 2016

In which I reflect on Gilead

I was gifted Gilead by Marilynne Robinson for Christmas this year. I had asked for it because a beloved blogger, Sarah Bessey, refers to and seems to love her novels, especially Gilead. I had read Lila in the fall, and after I got used to Robinson's unusual writing style, I really enjoyed the read. These books can't be read quickly- or shouldn't be, at least. Robinson is more thought based, inward seeking, than is normal for books.

Event and action driven plot really isn't the idea here. Here are characters to learn about, thoughts to ponder, the grace of everyday things to wonder at.

To state the bare bones of the novel, Gilead is about "a story about fathers and sons and the spiritual battles that still rage in America's heart. In the luminous and unforgettable voice of Congregationalist minister John Ames, Gilead reveals the human condition and 'manages to convey the miracle of existence itself.'"

All that is true... but I found more. And less. All at the same time.Yes there is "spiritual battles" and "human condition" and fancy words and thoughts like that. But there is simple life in Iowa. There are jumbled, seemingly insignificant, but ordinary and therefore beautiful memories of the inward and quiet life of a person.

There is this wonder that was never lost, this unimaginable but perfectly human love and wonder of the world. There is doubt, and despair; that I found in the novel. And that I appreciated. It did not take away from the sincerity of Ames' beliefs. It did not make him seem hypocritical as a minister with doubts and uncertainty. It made him seem more real, more sincere. Because there were doubts and questions. We all have them, though we may be afraid to voice them, whether because that makes them real, gives them form and a voice or because of fear of what others would think of us when we admitted to them-what we would think of ourselves should such things be spoken aloud.

But Ames leans into the pain. He recognizes his doubts and despair and instead of defending them or arguing them away, he looks at them, he sees them, and he sits with them. He goes into the Wilderness and there he finds a feast, a table, laid for him, for the Lord is there in the doubts and wonderings and wanderings of His people.

And he is not all doubtful. This is not the "look, I was religious but now I have risen above that with my doubts and intellect. I am spiritual or atheist." And these stories have their place, of course, of course. Because that is a human experience. But there is another human experience and I don't believe that one has been "fleshed out" as much.

Ames has his doubts, fears, and despair. He has loneliness and aches, both physical and emotional. But. He has beliefs. He has a faith that is not blind, but that is strong. He has a foundation. He knows that God is beyond his or anyone else's full  capacity to know in this life, and maybe in the next, but he believes certain statutes that carry him through his life and ministry: He believes in one God, he believes in Jesus as his son and the resurrection. He thinks there is an inherent "being-ness" and fractured beauty in people. He believes in grace. So much grace. Beautiful, mysterious, common-place everyday grace. 

And this beautiful grace and peace is woven throughout the story. This accepting-ness and wonder at people, the world, and faith lies behind and between every sentence in this book.

...So I loved it, if you could not tell at this point. I thought it was funny, I thought it was ordinary, and in the "common uncommonness" of it all, I found a grace and beauty in myself and my own life. And for that I believe this will be a comfort book for me, not that every idea is comforting, but because I believe it has Truth and it has Beauty. And who does not wish for more of that in their life?


"I have wandered to the limits of my understanding any number of times, out into that desolation, that Horeb, that Kansas, and I've scared myself, too, a good many times, leaving all landmarks behind me, or so it seemed. And it has been among the true pleasures of my life.... Though I must say all this has given me a new glimpse of the ongoingness of the world We fly forgotten as a dream, certainly, leaving the forgetful world behind us to trample and mar and misplace everything we have ever cared for. That is just the way of it, and it is remarkable" (191)

"I have thought about that very often- how the times change, and the same words that carry a good many people into the howling wilderness in one generation are irksome or meaningless in the next" (176).

"In the matter of belief, I have always found that defenses have the same irrelevance about them as the criticisms they are meant to answer. I think the attempt to defend belief can unsettle it, in fact, because there is always an inadequacy in argument about ultimate things. We participate in Being without reminder" (178).

"My point here is that you never do know the actual nature of even your own experience. or perhaps it has no fixed and certain nature" (95).

"'Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward.' And really, it was that night as if the earth were smoldering. Sell, it was, and it is. An old fire will make a dark husk for itself and settle in on its core, as in the case of this planet. I believe the same metaphor may describe the human individual, as well. Perhaps Gilead. Perhaps civilization. Prod a little and the sparks will ply. I don't know whether the verse put a blessing on the fireflies or the fireflies put a blessing on the verse, or if both of them together pit a blessing on trouble, but I have loved them both a good deal over since" (72).

"This morning I have been trying to think about heaven, but without much success. I don't know why I should expect to have any idea of heaven. I could never have imagined this world if I hadn't spent almost eight decades walking around in it" (66).

Finally, and this would be much to long a quote, but the whole passage on the baptism of cats and the sacredness and mystery of baptism and blessings was an interesting read.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

In which I eat my words (alternatively titled) Emma: a modern retelling

I am a book snob. There, I've said it. I love to throw out that I love Jane Austen. I casually mention my reading choice of Les Miserables or The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Don't get me wrong, I love these books; I am not such a snob that I just read them for the sake of being able to say that I did; no, I really do enjoy the classics. But sometimes I don't give other books a fair chance. Anything labeled "teen?" Don't even try. A science fiction? Puh-lease. A romance novel? I don't read romance novels ....What about Jane Austen? You uncultured swine her novels are satirical social critiques.... right? 

I do not say all these opinions out loud, by the way. I am a kind person who knows when to be silent on the subject of reading material. (I hope.) 

So there is one thing that I dismiss very quickly: modern retellings and/or spinoffs. This is from experience, because I did try several of those types of novels and I was greatly disappointed. So I could take a hint, learn from past experience. I steered clear. Until I saw Alexander McCall Smith's Emma as I was shelving books at the library. (I work there, by the way, I don't just randomly shelve people's library books...) Emma?! I thought, of all the gall! There already is an Emma and she's very famous and the title is taken. Is the copyright worn off? After a certain amount of time is that just a given or something? So I took a closer look, and lo and behold, McCall knew there was an Emma and he was doing a modern retelling of it. 

This struck me as a novelty. I have tried several Pride and Prejudice spin offs, with less than spectacular results. But Emma? My favorite Jane Austen novel? I don't know, maybe I'll just read the flap.... the first chapter.... well, I guess I'll check it out, I can always return it unfinished if it is really dreadful.....

And now the post title makes sense, eh? Because I shall eat my words. Not all spin-offs are not for me. Modern retellings always make me a little nervous. But McCall kept Austen's characters true to her vision while making them modern and fun and his as well. He had the wit and dry humor that characterizes Austen (though not exactly of the same kind, because who could be Jane?) and as the New York Times review on the back cover states "[McCall Smith] evoke[s] a place and a set of characters without caricature or condescension."

Harriet is there in all her pretty, naive, and scatter-brained glory. Mr. Woodhouse, the loving hypochondriac I have always found extremely amusing, given my father over-worries about germs and danger (his favorite term might be "careful!"), was there too. Emma was deeply flawed, as always, evoking a "badly done, Emma" from both Knightley and the reader. But she is so lovable. I have always felt amiable toward Emma, even when she was making the worst mistakes.

I think McCall really hits the nail on the head when he writes the brilliant nanny Miss Taylor to say, "There's a big difference between a mistake, which is all about harm that you didn't intend, and a misdeed, which is harm that you did intend. A big difference.' Emma listened. 'Your mistake,' continued Miss Taylor, 'has been to interfere in the lives of others.'" (348).

Emma makes not one, but many mistakes, and it all comes to a head at the picnic. But all is not lost, as our heroine gets a happy ending with her Knightley, as she must in any self-respecting version of Emma. 

"I've never been very good at expressing my feelings; other people are so much better at that. But I want you to know that I've been in love with you, Emma, for a long time. I just have. Not a day, not a single day has gone past but that I've thought about you" (359)..... Swoon. Give me Mr. Knightley, past or present, and I will be a happy camper.

McCall Smith has a message here, one found in the original Emma, but he really tries to get the point across: "Emma was happy. She realised that happiness is something that springs from the generous treatment of others, and that until one makes that connection, happiness may prove elusive" (361).

This is such an obvious but hard truth to put into practice. Generous treatment of others, not for your benefit, not necessarily because their behavior warrants it, but because they are people and deserve respect just for that fact alone. 

Love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul,  and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important commandment. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. (Matthew 22:37-39). 

I don't know if others have experienced this, but sometimes I hear something, or see something, or think of something and then it seems to show up everywhere. I heard this message in McCall's Emma, I read a nonfiction book by Jen Hatmaker called For the Love in which she says, numerous times, "love God, love people." And now I am getting love in my third book in a row, Do Try to Speak as We Do: "It would never occur to me to say 'I love you.' And why not is what I wonder.... My mother says, 'I feel you say love with actions, not words'" (103).

Like, okay God, I get it! Love, love, love, love, love!.... Because that is really the Gospel, isn't it? That is the Good News. And it's so hard to grasp sometimes, so hard to give.


Wow, I did not mean for this post to go this way, but I think it works. To recap: I ate my book-snobby words and loved McCall's Emma. In case anyone hasn't picked up on this yet, I love flawed heroines with my whole being, and LOVE has been drilled into my head with my past couple readings and I am pondering it a lot lately (and hopefully putting it into practice. I have been trying to consciously make an effort at loving lately). That is what is new with me. Oh, and my senior year of high school has started, so there's that (yikes!).

Hopefully there will be a review of Do Try to Speak as We Do up sooner rather than later on this little blog. In the meantime, check out these two posts that I will link below to get an idea of what I thought of Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman, because I was just thinking "yes, yes, yes! That is what I thought" the whole way through both posts.

Until next time.... "Love God, love people."

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Life at the 4077th

The 4077th is a M.A.S.H. (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital) Unit during the Korean War, which lasted from 1950-1953. Of course, if you think about it, is the war entirely over, or just on hold? There is undeniable tension between North and South Korea that was not finished, and was probably aggravated by the war. But that is not what this post is about.


Specifically, the 4077th is an imaginary M.A.S.H. unit that is the setting for the movie and popular television series called "M*A*S*H." I have not seen it in order, so I cannot tell you how the show begins. I have not seen the last show, so I cannot tell you how it ends. I have seen a disjointed middle so I cannot review the chronological progression of the series. Well.... what can I do?! Good question. I can tell you the enjoyment, critical thinking, and historical history this show has provided me thus far.

According to a news article I read online (I cannot link the exact one, as I did not bookmark it), M*A*S*H was the first show to be produced as a drama/comedy. One minute you will be laughing at Dr.'s Hawkeye and Trapper/Hunnicutt, the next you will be practically crying over the physical and mental shape of an 18 year old soldier. It is a roller coaster ride of emotions, but I promise you'll like it. (Or, at least I do.) Because, see, the deep sad stuff has to be in a show based off an army hospital on the front lines, or it would be completely unrealistic. And, at least for me, if the show was only drama and sadness, I am not sure I would like it half as  much as I do.

Dr. Hawkeye Pierce is one of the main characters. He is a wonderful surgeon who does not want to be in Korea. How does he cope with all he sees? He makes jokes and takes the war lightly. There are times however when Pierce gets serious and you see the hurt and gravity of Pierce and his true view on his times in Korea.

I love Hawkeye. Sure, sometimes I get annoyed with his careless attitude, his cocky way of talking about women, his disregard for authority can hurt the unit. But he means well, he is a good surgeon, and when push comes to shove, he is kind and helpful. He certainly has his flaws, but Hawkeye makes for a wonderful and complex main character.

As much as he and Dr. Trapper had good repartee, I liked when he and Hunnicut where the main surgeons in the later seasons. Hunnicut is refreshing in a M*A*S*H unit where sexual morality is now the norm. Before that, every character has a loose and careless view on matrimony, Those who are married cheat on their wives, and I know this is an accurate depiction for war time. SOMETIMES. But Hunnicut loves his wife and child, and from the minute he steps into the camp until the end (or at least in all the episodes I have seen) B.J. Hunnicut is faithful to and vocal about his love for his wife and child.

Hawkeye seems to be more of a pacifist. He always talks of ending the war, speaks of peace negotiations (though cynically, because they hardly ever come to anything, as negotiations had been talked of since the start of the war), and bemoans the loss of lives on both sides. Yes, both. Hawkeye will not bat an eyelash if you bring him a wounded enemy soldier. He will just slip on his gloves, order a nurse to get some anesthesia, and get to work on his new patient. And I love that about him. Seeing the horrendous-ness of war, seeing "the enemy" as real human beings with good and bad qualities, who are equally as likely to grab a knife from the surgical tray or thank you for operating on them. One Korean spy even ends up helping the M*A*S*H unit when they show him kindness and he sees the great need of the patients.

Watching these shows has me thinking on my own beliefs about war and pacifism, the "us" vs. "them" mentality. Because it is never that simple. People are messy, beautiful, kind, awful, strong, brave, weak, and fragile. Often all at the same time. War is not as-was it Hemingway that Hawkeye had read and admired before the war?-well, anyway, war is not as honorable and clean cut as Hemingway made it out to be in his literature.

There is Sydney, a returning guest star, who is a psychiatrist for the Korean War. Seeing patients, doctors, and soldiers mental and emotional state is heartbreaking. The problems and PTSD that sets in before the war is even over is traumatic. And though it is just a show, such things are not just part of the show, They happened and are happening and will happen in the foreseeable future. This is messy stuff that cannot just be swept under the rug.

And I had never really been forced to confront my thoughts on war, trauma, and the like until I had watched this show. Not that I have it all figured out now that I have been pondering it, but I have views now, however fragile, and I have logical reasons for holding them.

I also love the way that the writers treat Father Mulcahy. The Father is the only religious figure at the 4077th. There is no residential rabbi or Buddhist teacher. (Although the Fr. has performed other religious ceremonies for people throughout the show.) All religions are treated with respect and honor. Father Mulcahy lives out what he teaches, cares for others, acts as a priest on Sundays, nurse when needed, and psychologist/spiritual guide when the time is right. Everyone, from the agnostic Hawkeye to the Jewish Sydney respect and admire the Father. I don't know, I really can't explain everything clearly, so just watch for it in the show. :)

While Henry Blake was funny as an inept M.A.S.H leader, I really liked the fatherly and war seasoned Col. Potter. Love love love Col. Potter. That is all (and yet not all, because I could list so many reasons... see the show though, and you'll find plenty of reasons to love Colonel Potter) Okay, one reason is the quote shown in this picture. <3

At first I did not like Major Margaret Houlihan. She is the head nurse at 4077 and she is bossy and unkind. She dismisses Hawkeye and has a relationship with the married and bigoted Major Frank Burns. However Margaret grows as well, especially after Frank leaves. She is a strong female character, with a big job at the M.A.S.H. unit. Without her the doctors could not perform successful surgeries. She and the nurses are truly the unsung heroes of the 4077. I really appreciate that the men, while occasionally making sexist and degrading comments, recognize that Margaret does a hard job, and works as hard and can do as well or better what any of the men at the unit do. They are a team, and when men and women get together to accomplish a larger goal, it is really inspiring to see the process and its results.

Okay, so we have covered war, pacifism, trauma, PTSD, "enemies," feminism/femininity, religion/God, and humor, And I think it is safe to say that most or all of these subjects can be found in practically every episode of M*A*S*H.

Please go watch this show. It is so much more than an interesting "dramedy" and I cannot wait to see more. This show covers so much about the human condition, life, and war specifically. There is the good and the bad, the saints and the sinners, and everything in between. I'm not sure how many shows can rival M*A*S*H in these aspects, however good they may be.


Everyone needs a show that can make them laugh, cry, learn, and think over the "deep" questions. M*A*S*H is certainly mine. What is yours?

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Just a List of Random Questions

The rules for the tag are:
~ Paste the button onto your blog post.
~ Leave a new list of questions (or just pass on the question list you answered) and tag a few people of your random choice (and say why you tagged them, if you have time!) (Be original and nonsensical in your question-creativity - make the blogging world a cheerful place :-) And be disastrously random.)
Now for the fun...
~Write down three facts about you - one of them is WRONG. Let your commenters guess in the comments which one is wrong (and tell them in the comments after a while)
~Answer the questions of the person who tagged you - make it all super random and interesting :-D

I was tagged by Hamelette to participate and I thought it looked like fun! First, here are three facts about me and one of them is a LIE

1) I go to public school
2) I don't like coffee
3) I have a cat named Gypsy
...So which one do you think is false? Guess in the comments and I'll tell you which is the lie!

Hamlette's Questions:

Favorite role from your favorite actor?
Okay, so sadly this was really hard to think of... I am not good with actors/actresses so.... Martin Freeman, and while I am tempted to say John Watson, I loved him too much as Bilbo Baggins. So there. And to cheat, second is Richard Armitage as Mr. Thornton because handsome....

Favorite role from your favorite actress?

Hmm... I love Dame Judy Dench and though she has been in so many, I really like her as Miss Matty in Cranford- and we have the same name in that movie, though she spells it differently :P

Book you've read that you tell people not to bother reading?
This is hard because if I dislike a book it is usually never finished so I feel unqualified to tell others my opinion of the book as a whole.... but if you twisted my arm I would have to say don't bother to read The Postmistress. The cover looks lovely and perfect, and the era seemed right (WWII and just after) but no. Do not bother to read it, because it will disappoint (or at least that was my experience.)

A food you refuse to try?
Can it be a drink? (Cheating again...) Green tea. My aunt, who made me a lover of teas, especially of the loose leaf variety, insists she will have me try it and like it.... but it smells weird and is said to taste earthy.... and who wants that?

Your favorite article of clothing?
My flowy white shirt. I feel fancy and Anne of Green Gables-y when I wear it. And who doesn't want to feel AoGG-ish?!

Have you ever gone to see the same movie in the theater more than once?
Yes. Sadly, I can't name a specific movie, but I remember seeing it with friends and then seeing the same one with my family. This has happened more than once.

Do you paint your toenails?
Yes! Especially since it pays off more than painting your nails. Toenail polish can last for months if you want it to... right now I have dark blue polish on my toes from when my mom and I got mani-pedis for spring break (a special treat :))

Do you wear any piece of jewelry every day?
I was going to say no but I suppose my watch counts as jewelry, and I am one of the few people I know (at least, who are my age) that wear one every day. It is silver, with a face, not digital, and I love it. It is delicate, so rather more like a bracelet than a clunky watch.

Are you on Pinterest?
The better question would be are you ever NOT on Pinterest.... ha

Do you collect anything?
Nope. I thought about it a couple times, but I don't ever follow through. Unless collecting books counts because I have bookshelves, closets, and nightstands full of those babies.

Have you ever asked a famous person for their autograph?
No, because I really haven't seen a famous person up close. Maybe someday..... like when I marry Richard Armitage? (Just kidding. Kind of.)... random aside, my sister is terrified when I fangirl over him because she says he is too old. Hmmph. Maybe he is, but his voice is lovely, his acting is wonderful, and he is a celebrity, so it's not like that will really end up being a problem. Okay, rant over. :)

Have you been outside the country you were born in?
Never. :'( tear tear. Unless you count as a fetus, because my parents went to Canada then....

Okay, that was fun! I am now supposed to tag people. And because I usually wimp out on this part, I am forcing myself to do it properly this time. I nominate Miss Dashwood and Petie. Do the tag if you would like, but no pressure. :) If I didn't tag you and you want to do this, go right ahead!

My Questions:

  1. If you could go back in time and kill Hitler would you? Why or why not?
  2. Have you ever experienced buyer's remorse? If so, what on?
  3. Have you ever bought a book for it's cover? What book? Did you end up liking it?
  4. What is your favorite flower?
  5. What celebrity and/or fictional character are you most compatible with? (NOT who you most like, because that is not always the same thing.)
  6. Quick! Jeans or dresses?
  7. Time to be cliche and ask what time period you would go back to if you could.
  8. Do you have a list of names you want to name your children? If they are not too secret, would you share one of them with us?
  9. Where do you see yourself in ten years?
  10. College: for or against? Why?

Saturday, April 4, 2015

'here the stars were closer, the colours brighter, the goods and evils starker, than they were on earth'

The fate of Plenilune hangs on the election of the Overlord, for which Rupert de la Mare and his brother are the only contenders, but when Rupert’s unwilling bride-to-be uncovers his plot to murder his brother, the conflict explodes into civil war. To assure the minds of the lord-electors of Plenilune that he has some capacity for humanity, Rupert de la Mare has been asked to woo and win a lady before he can become the Overlord, and he will do it—even if he has to kidnap her.

En route to Naples to catch a suitor, Margaret Coventry was not expecting a suitor to catch her.
Image Courtesy of:
Plenilune, I feel presumptuous even thinking that I could accurately and intelligently review this novel, but I would like to share my opinion on the book in hopes that others will pick up the story and form their own opinions.

You will either love the writing style or you will extremely dislike it. I loved it, obviously. It was a bit wordy, very descriptive, but from a girl who loves L.M. Montgomery I cannot balk at such a style. It is not Montgomery-ish really though.

Jennifer Freitag writes with description, yes, but also with a fervent, powerful, action based tone throughout the story. It is not a meandering walk through the nature of P.E.I., but the descriptive and full bodied tone of Plenilune and her war lords, ladies, and painfully beautiful landscape.

I began the book assuming I would enjoy it, as I had liked The Shadow Things, Jenny's (if I am not too presumptuous in calling her Jenny) first novel. This novel was quite different though, and I was expecting that. It was planetary fiction, and not historical fiction, for one, and for another it seemed, at least from the excerpts she had shared on her blog, to be even better, being her sophomore novel and so she obviously had had time to hone her craft even more.

But this was very different than even what I was expecting. And while in the abstract I was rather dubious about the whole thing, all doubts left me when I had the book in my possession. I knew I could bury myself in this book and world and be astounded at the fierceness and passion of this book.

The characters are larger than life. They are man, but more. More capacity to love, to hate... more passion, more patriotism, more heroism, more devilment, just more. No wonder Margaret both hates and love Plenilune and its inhabitants.

Image Courtesy of: The Penslayer
There is a lot in this book (after all, it is 659 pages... should this be the new Brick, not Les Miserables?) There is a smattering of Victorian England, lots of nature, war, evil, love, passion, fear, there is a ball, horses, hunts, many beautiful dresses, Austen-couldn't-have-done-better wit, (IMO, so don't hurt me...) talking foxes, faith, God, graceShakespeare, and Songmartin... just to name a few.

AND there are more books to come on Plenilune. Which is good because Plenilune..... somehow I get a feeling of homesickness thinking about Plenilune. For all the danger, strangeness, and... Plenilunar-ness of the whole thing I don't know that I'd mind living there. At least for a while. It sounds like earth but more, rather like the characters were earthlings but more.

Lest it seem this book has no flaws, I will briefly state that, at least for me, sometimes the description got in the way of the story, but it really helped to make a clear picture of Plenilune. It was obvious how real this place is to Jenny and I loved getting to know it as well.

Though you may feel worn out by the end of reading it, I believe it is worth it. It is full-bodied wine, strong meat, but all the better for being so. So,,, to summarize, I recommend it. Though unique and not for everyone, if this book is for you, it will take hold and not let go.

//for a look at the world of Plenilune and some of Freitag's works-in-progress, check out her Pinterest boards//

Friday, February 20, 2015

A Review of Till We Have Faces

I have always had a love for Greek mythology. I also love the apologetic of C.S. Lewis. So when I found out that C.S. Lewis had done a retelling of Cupid and Psyche, I immediately put it on my Christmas list. 

I got around to reading it in January and now I shall review it in February. Having had time to think over this story, it just appears even better.

Orual is the main character in this story, and she is the older half sister and mother figure of Psyche. The story is written from the first person point of view of Orual, and she is writing in her old age a book accusing the gods. 

The idea of a book's sole purpose being to accuse the gods seemed gutsy and unusual and pulled me in at once. The ancient atmosphere of Glome and the far off echoes of ancient Greece brought by the Greek teacher and father figure "Fox" fascinated me and brought back the old myths.

This book is more than just a creative retelling of Cupid and Psyche, though. It is the stark showing of the flaws and self deception of human nature. It shows the sin and harm of possessive love. Deftly weaving the story so that Orual's faults and self deceptions shine through, while still allowing the reader to feel sympathy and understanding with the character, Lewis takes us through the reimagined tale of Cupid and Psyche from the POV of a loving sister who is hurt and confused by Psyche's presumed death; then she is hurt and "concerned" when she travels to bury Psyche, only to find her lovely sister alive and well, speaking of a wonderful husband and a palace Orual cannot see.

Feeling cut off and separated from her sister's new life, Orual seeks council from wise and good friends. Both feel that Psyche is married not to a wonderful husband, but to some despicable being. Orual allows this belief to be her excuse for forcing Psyche to question her new life and disobey her husband's one wish....

You know the rest. Psyche looks upon her husband when he is sleeping to find him to be a beautiful god. Unable to look away, Psyche gazes in awe on his beautiful face, when some hot oil from her lamp wakes him. He flees and sends Psyche away to wander and wail. 

He appears to Orual and curses her for her part in Pysche's betrayal. "Now Psyche goes out in exile. Now she must hunger and thirst and tread hard roads. Those against whom I cannot fight must do their will upon her. You, woman, shall know yourself and your work. You also shall be Psyche" (173-174). 

Orual becomes Queen of Glome when her father dies. Though a marvelous Queen, she is cold. "I am the Queen; I'll kill Orual too" (225). "I locked Orual up or laid her asleep as best I could somewhere deep down inside me; she lay curled there. It was like being with child, but reversed; the thing I carried in me grew slowly smaller and less alive" (226). 

At the end of her accusations and small tales of life as Queen, Orual ends the first part of the novel: "It may well be that, instad of answering, they'll strike me mad or leprous or turn me into beast, bird, or tree. But will not all the world then know (and the gods will know it knows) that this is because they have no answer?" (250). A very strong accusation to make against the gods, don't you think?

So by then I had to know what went on in part two, Did Orual get her answer from the gods? Does she see Psyche again? Does she ever realize her self deception and selfish, possessive love of Psyche?

The second part goes on to tell of how the very writing out of the past and accusations forced Orual to truthfully tell of the past and her old thoughts and passions. Then happenings from the present showed Orual the past in a new light. Finally, Orual has "dreams," if such they can be called, where finally she learns the truth of the matter.

"...the change which writing wrought in me (and of which I did not write) was only a beginning- only to prepare me for the gods' surgery. They used my own pen to probe my wound" ( 253-254). 

"And now those divine Surgeons had me tied down and were at work. My anger protected me only for a short time; anger wearies itself out and truth comes in" (266).

 "A love like that can grow to be nine-tenths hatred and still call itself love" (266). 

"'Do not do it,' said the god. 'You cannot escape Ungit by going to the deadlands, for she is there also. Die before you die. There is no change after'" (279). 

"I could mend my soul no more than my face. Unless the gods helped" (282). 

And, finally, in you are not already gorged with quotes, here is what I think is the best: "The complaint was the answer. To have heard myself making it was to be answered. Lightly men talk of saying what they mean.... When the time comes to you at which you will be forced at last to utter the speech which has lain at the center of your soul for years, which you have, all that time, idiot-like, been saying over and over, you'll not speak about joy of words. I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer. Till that word can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?" (294).  

Finally, C.S. Lewis ends with Truth. "I ended my first book with the words no answer. I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away. What other answer would suffice?" (308). 

So, what started as a review ended as a quote binge. But I hope you enjoyed the quotes as much as I did, and that they will spur you on to read the entirety of Till We Have Faces, because it is a unique story. And now I will leave you with a cozy little picture I found of C.S. Lewis. :)