“When tragedy strikes sixteen-year-old Wren’s family, she can’t see the point in starting over again, especially when her future seems so uncertain and her heart so heavy.
“After she is sent to stay with her favorite aunt, who lives in a doll museum, Wren quickly discovers two creepily lifelike dolls hidden inside the walls of the old house. Dolls that were created to look like two very real people—a dangerously handsome young man and his mysteriously beautiful fiancée—a young woman he supposedly murdered a few weeks before their wedding day.
“As Wren attempts to solve what really happened all those years ago—she begins to realize that not only are the dolls haunted—but one of them is dead set on making sure the truth will never be revealed. No matter the cost…”
Lifelike sucked me right in. It’s suspenseful, frightening, funny, and sweet, and Wren is so lifelike . . . . I absolutely love this little novel! Had I read it as a teen, it would have been one of my very favorite books, and I probably would have read it again and again.
“Drawn by a promise of ‘wisteria and sunshine,’ four English ladies exchange their damp and dreary surroundings for a month on the Italian Riviera. They’re different from each other in age and attitude, but all are bewitched by their rented medieval castle and the natural beauty of the Portofino peninsula. Their holiday not only refreshes their spirits but also reintroduces them to their true natures and reopens their hearts to love and friendship.”
I’ve been busy at work on Book 3 of the Dominion Over the Earth series, Day of Liberation, since the beginning of February and have had little desire to put my mind in the stories or even observations of other authors. I’ve had even less desire to put any of my own observations on anything I’ve read into a blog post, and I had pretty much determined that I am incapable of serious blogging and obsessive novel-writing at the same time. The Enchanted April, however, pulled me out of my fantasy world and into the real one long enough to write a blog post, which is ironic, since the book itself has the feel of a fairy tale.
When I saw that one of my favorite LibriVox readers recorded The Scarlet Pimpernel and two of its sequels, I decided to listen to them. The Scarlet Pimpernel isn’t great literature, but it’s fun, and I’ve been in the mood for light reading.
“Written at a time of social unrest, [Shirley] is set during the period of the Napoleonic Wars, when economic hardship led to riots in the woollen district of Yorkshire. A mill-owner, Robert Moore, is determined to introduce new machinery despite fierce opposition from his workers; he ignores their suffering, and puts his own life at risk. Robert sees marriage to the wealthy Shirley Keeldar as the solution to his difficulties, but he loves his cousin Caroline. She suffers misery and frustration, and Shirley has her own ideas about the man she will choose to marry.”
I really wanted to like this book and began it with that intention, and by the time I finished it, I did like it—I just didn’t love it. I think the reason was because it never completely captivated me. Brontë begins the novel by describing many minor characters in detail, and I had difficulty understanding which characters the story would follow, which made it all seem rather pointless to me in the beginning. As the novel and its underlying themes unfold, it does become just as much about a community of people as it does the lead characters, which gives at least some purpose for the detailed descriptions of the secondary characters. Structurally, this novel begins with a community in turmoil and ends as that community begins to come out of the turmoil. This struggle is mirrored on an individual level with several of the characters, in particular Caroline Helstone and Robert Moore. This observation puts into words what I believe is the overall theme of the novel:
“Twenty-seven-year old Anne Elliot is Austen’s most adult heroine. Eight years before the story proper begins, she is happily betrothed to a naval officer, Frederick Wentworth, but she precipitously breaks off the engagement when persuaded by her friend Lady Russell that such a match is unworthy. The breakup produces in Anne a deep and long-lasting regret. When later Wentworth returns from sea a rich and successful captain, he finds Anne’s family on the brink of financial ruin and his own sister a tenant in Kellynch Hall, the Elliot estate. All the tension of the novel revolves around one question: Will Anne and Wentworth be reunited in their love?”
One of the things Persuasion does best is show that a desirable home is much more than a grand estate and fine furnishings. Anne Elliot’s standard of homemaking has been set by her deceased mother, who is described as an “excellent woman, sensible and amiable” who had managed Kellynch Hall with “method, moderation, and economy.” Anne is grieved that her father and older sister Elizabeth—who, for all practical purposes, became the mistress of Kellynch Hall after their mother’s death—have mismanaged the family’s resources to such an extent that they will have to “retrench” in Bath, where their lawyer believes a family of high rank can appear important without spending a lot of money.
“Nine is the ninth female born in her batch of ten females and ten males. By design, her life in Freedom Province is without complications or consequences. However, such freedom comes with a price. the Prime Maker is determined to keep that price a secret from the new batches of citizens that are born, nurtured, and raised androgynously.
“But Nine isn’t like every other batcher. She harbors indecision and worries about her upcoming Remake Day—her seventeenth birthday, the age when batchers fly to the Remake facility and have the freedom to choose who and what they’ll be.
“When Nine discovers the truth about life outside of Freedom Province, including the secret plan of the Prime Maker, she is pulled between two worlds and two lives. Her decisions will test her courage, her heart, and her beliefs. Who can she trust? Who does she love? And most importantly, who will she decide to be?”
The description of the novel Remake surprised me when I read it in the Deseret Book catalogue in the fall of 2014. This book, a dystopia that Deseret Book published under its Shadow Mountain imprint, was quite a bit different from anything I had ever seen the company publish before—in a good way. I like dystopian fiction and was so intrigued by the fact that Deseret Book would publish something like Remake that I downloaded the book and read it on a trip to the beach at the end of 2014.
“A body is found in the Thames and identified as that of John Harmon, a young man recently returned to London to receive his inheritance. Were he alive, his father’s will would require him to marry Bella Wilfer, a beautiful, mercenary girl whom he had never met. Instead, the money passes to the working-class Boffins, and the effects spread into various corners of London society.”
Our Mutual Friend details corruption and falsity in those “various corners of London society” to such a degree that a glimpse of Zion didn’t come easily to me as I read it. In this Babylon-like society, the altruistic mingle with the mercenaries, and distinguishing between them isn’t always simple. One thing that Dickens does well in this novel is show how these types exist at all levels of society and that it is possible for a person to change—sometimes for the better and, just as often, for the worse.
“With neither friends nor family, Lucy Snowe sets sail from England to find employment in a girls’ boarding school in the small town of Villette. There she struggles to retain her self-possession in the face of unruly pupils, an initially suspicious headmaster, and her own complex feelings, first for the school’s English doctor and then for the dictatorial professor, Paul Emmanuel. Charlotte Brontë’s last and most autobiographical novel is a powerfully moving study of isolation and the pain of unrequited love, narrated by a heroine determined to preserve an independent spirit in the face of adverse circumstances.”
I read Villette by Charlotte Brontë for the first time about twenty years ago. During that first reading, I became caught up in the raw emotion and love story of this great work. I thought it was a very stark novel, and I said as much when one of the members of my book group told the rest of us in the autumn of 2014 that she had recently finished reading it. She disagreed with my opinion and declared that it was a happy book. Of course, this disagreement fascinated the other members of the group, and we put it on our list for 2015. I just finished re-reading it and still think it is stark and that it ends in tragedy. Imagine my surprise when I learned that I was the only one out of the five in attendance at our meeting who felt that way. We had a spirited discussion about the matter, and I couldn’t persuade them to my point of view, and they couldn’t persuade me to theirs.
One of the problems with old mysteries and romances is that if they’re any good, their plots have been rehashed a zillion times since they were originally published. Out of the five books listed below, I only remember two real surprises, and they were in the same book. Nevertheless, all of these books satisfied my need for a light read and yet possessed a certain sparkle.
“ARRANGED centers on the friendship between an Orthodox Jewish woman and a Muslim woman who meet as first-year teachers at a public school in Brooklyn. Over the course of the year they learn they share much in common—not least of which is that they are both going through the process of arranged marriages.”
I watched this film for the first time about a year ago and liked it so much that I recently watched it again. Because it’s such an unusual, obscure film that helped me envision Zion, I thought I’d comment on it. Nasira and Rochel were more familiar than foreign to me for a couple of reasons. I live in a suburb of Washington, D.C. that is as religiously, philosophically, and ethnically diverse as the area depicted in the film. The friendship between Rochel and Nasira could have taken place in my community. The challenges they faced could have happened here too, and while I can’t imagine a principal at one of my children’s schools challenging devout women in the vigorous way the one in the film did Nasira and Rochel, the principal’s mindset is prevalent in my community and contributes to a culture that can be hostile to religious ideas and practices that aren’t politically correct.
“The Men of the Mark do not lie, and therefore they are not easily deceived” (J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers).
“God has just such gladness every time he sees from heaven that a sinner is praying to Him with all his heart, as a mother has when she sees the first smile on her baby’s face” (Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Idiot).
“God’s love and mercy can overcome all things—our ignorance, and weakness, and all the burden of our past wickedness—all things but our wilful sin, sin that we cling to, and will not give up” (George Eliot, Adam Bede).
“Unlimited power is in itself a bad and dangerous thing; human beings are not competent to exercise it with discretion, and God alone can be omnipotent, because His wisdom and His justice are always equal to His power” (Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America).
“I decided that God, a kind and loving God, could never be proved. In fact there are . . . a lot of arguments against him. But there isn’t any point to life without him. Without him we’re just a skin disease on the face of the earth, and I feel too strongly about the human spirit to be able to settle for that. So what I did for a long time was to live life as though I believed in God. And eventually I found out that the as though had turned into a reality” (Madeleine L’Engle, The Moon by Night).
About the Author
Creator of spaced-out Christian fiction and clean-reading resources. See my BIO.